Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Long Time Passing

I lived in the cabin in Westminster, Vermont about nine years ago. This picture was taken from the back side, you can see where the deck is already broken and sagging. That's nothing compared to what it looked like after the snow. I have, like, five old, disposable cameras from when I lived in this place and these are the only ones I've had developed yet. I'll have to have more done soon, as soon as we have some extra cash. I bring a few in every couple months but most of what comes off them is pretty bad, to the point of unrecognizable actually. I keep hoping I'll get some of the guy I lived with while I was there but I just get rooftops and pops of light in front of black trees. I cannot say what exactly was going through my mind when I/we agreed to pay four hundred a month for a cabin in the middle of nowhere with no electricity or running water. See, that seemed cheap since we had just come from Boston and rent there was so high. Besides, I think we both had some romantic ideas about living in the woods, off-grid without the poisons of the world bombarding us. Despite the turbulence of our relationship, we were totally in love and probably would have lived in a cave if we had to. There was a huge tank of a wood stove to heat the place which consisted of two 10x15 ft rooms stacked one on the other with a ladder leaning through a square in the floor to get up and down. We naively moved in in September and once the winter came there were only two temperatures, ice cold or hellishly hot. To keep from not freezing at night, we had to make the fire so big and hot that it would still have coals in the morning, it must have reached in the hundreds up in the loft area where we slept. Often I fell asleep with the window beside my head open so I could breathe, until it began to get cold and then I shut the window and pulled the blankets close until morning when one of us had to brave the cold long enough to get the fire raging again. There was no wood to burn when we moved there. We ordered, I think, only three or four cords which isn't really that much for your only source of heat. But the place was small and we made it through the winter. Only the wood came in big rounds still and we had to slice it up into chunks we could fit in the stove. Chopping wood is not as easy as it looks. Shit flies at your face, you hit knots and the axe gets stuck which forces you to lift the whole axe/log combo in the air and bring it down hard to try to dislodge it. This is as sketchy as it sounds. If you really suck, sometimes you miss the log altogether which poses the risk of possibly hacking up your own shin. And then you have to carry it inside, sometimes caked in snow or mud, dripping water and bugs.
We, well, Phil, had to dig a big hole and we built an outhouse. That was a total bitch because the ground was all ledge and hard as rock with huge, tough roots layered all throughout. And I wish I had a picture of the outhouse because it was made of all mismatched, scrap wood. It tilted to one side and was so far from the cabin I refused to go out there at night. At least not alone, as you could often hear the coyotes howling and running past in the bordering woods.
This is one pic I did get of Phil and my little brother when he was pretty young. He looked just like Harry Potter back then, my brother I mean. The part I like about this picture is that it reminds me of how the light came in through all those big windows. This must have been spring because in the dead of winter we had to cover these with blankets because they let so much cold through. Most of the time for water we took one gallon jugs and put about four milk crates in the back of the truck, each crate carries four jugs, and we'd drive to the co-op in town and fill them at the bulk water container. It was pretty cheap for purified water and then we'd lug it back. Sometimes, once we'd been there a while and realized we could do this, we went to one of several springs around here to fill them. People have set up spickets that come right out of the sides of the mountains from some underground springs. They flow constantly and you just hold the jug under it until it fills. The one I went to most often was on a dirt road so narrow it barely fit one car. There was a steep fall on one side going into a rocky riverbed. In the winter it was the most challenging not to go off the road if another car came along.
Once the snow began to stack up we could no longer drive most of the way to the cabin. We parked out on the road and walked almost a half mile in to the woods before we got to there. Then we had to drag the water crates in on a sled. Talk about a workout! Between the shoveling, chopping, carting and working on a farm, I was jacked. I wouldn't want to fight myself back then. If myself then fought myself now, I'd kick my own ass.

This is the front, I suppose you would call it as it was what you saw as you came through the woods upon the place. The row of little widows are the ones I would open by my head when we slept, low to the floor on an old futon. One of the best freedoms we enjoyed was complete privacy. We could stand outside, naked, smoking a jib and not a soul would complain. Our dogs could bark, we could scream and smash shit, we could have sex on the porch, and no one would call the police.
If you look closely, you can see just the edge of the tailgate of the truck. This was as close as we could drive, and this was in the fall when we first moved in. Once the snow came we were pushed further and further away until we were out by the road. But spring was the most difficult, with the mud and melt water. As the weather warmed, you would step and suddenly sink knee-high in the sloshy, granular snow. Even the road leading up to our driveway was treacherous that time of year. It was very steep and winding, and as the water washed down the mountain, so did the road itself. Huge sections would be washed out with water and gravel rushing in the ruts threatening to remove even larger sections from underneath the tires.

This is what the woods looked like on one side, the one closest to the road which was far enough away that you couldn't hear a car drive by. The other side was denser, dark pines falling steeply to a small river. You can sort of see the small, white figurine along the tree line. This was a saint, I believe, belonging to the woman who rented the place. We had explicit instruction that he was not to be moved. Whatever, he didn't bother me. But she also left her dog. And this did bother me. It was one of those huge, maremma sheep dogs, the big, white, fluffy ones seen hanging out in fields amongst sheep, obviously. Only she raised it using a theory she had developed to try to keep the dog as free from human control as possible. But what she ended up with was an enormous, mean dog who was so miserable you couldn't even get close enough to feed it without it trying to take off your hand. I love animals and I'm not generally scared by them, but I was wary of this dog. She had him chained to a tree in the corner of the yard near the wood shed. The chain was far to weak to be used for a dog of such bulk and he routinely escaped inevitably leading to a visit from the nearest neighbor irate because the dog attacked his sheep. The dog must have been starving and thoroughly stark raving mad to do this as it is truly not in their nature to attack the very animal they are bred to protect. In most healthy maremmas they see the flock as their pack, their duty to watch over, majestic and serene. This dog was loony. I tried to be nice to it for a while, thinking maybe it would calm down and we could keep him, but I just didn't have the ability to help this dog. I kept asking her to find him another home and she would say weird shit like, "I don't think I can find anyone to take him. Maybe I'll just shoot him and make a hat". She wasn't kidding. One day he was missing and we though he escaped again, but he never came back. Maybe she did shoot him. Maybe a neighboring farmer or pet owner did when he attacked their animals. I don't know.
This is Bob and Miss Guggenheim, the two dogs we had when we lived here. I named Bob, I'm not really sure where the hell he came up with the other name, but whatever, we called her Googy. They were a mix of Rottweiler and pitt bull and they were huge. In this picture they aren't even six months old. When we broke up he kept them because he stayed in the cabin and I lived in my truck. I haven't spoken to him since, mostly because I don't know where he is, so I don't know where they are either. That's sad.
It's difficult to see just how much damage was done, but there was so much snow that year it piled so high on the deck it disconnected from the house. We shoveled it from time to time but it would come sliding off the sleek metal roof with such force I'm not sure we could have avoided it.
This is the only pic I have of the inside. It was pretty with all the windows and the golden colored wood. It was often very peaceful and I felt like I was doing something that mattered, I don't know why. But living like that takes so much time and hard work. And it not being our own house we couldn't adjust it to suit our needs. If we had owned the land it would have been worth putting up solar panels and then we could have run a small fridge at least. We had a propane stove, it was mini and the propane tank sat right next to it under the counter. Safe, not a fire hazard at all.

I miss being younger and feeling like life went on forever. I miss loving someone so much that it hurt. I miss being strong and agile and so fucking sure that it was possible to change the world.

Of course there are so many things about getting older which are worth waiting for. It's unfortunate that as we gain awareness and confidence, we lose stamina and passion. Not that getting older means giving up, it doesn't have to. But when you're young you don't understand what it is to have the burdens that accumulate over time. If we understood then, maybe we could avoid limiting ourselves so much as we age. By the time a lot of us realize what has happened we are stifled by fear and insecurity, making change almost impossible.

Anyone reading this would probably scoff if they truly knew what my life consisted of. I am very free compared to a lot of people. I'm relatively young, I don't have kids tying me to one person or place I'm unhappy with, I have a job I could change at any moment. Basically, I could do whatever I wanted with very little negative consequences if only I weren't such a sissy. Even with my relative freedoms I still feel as if the pressure to conform is overwhelming me. Like a big, dead weight dragging me down. It's a constant drilling into me from every direction....have kids, buy a house, get a better job, get married, blah, blah, blah. I feel like we are offered this very limited number of templates from which to choose the life we want and if none of those work for us then it must be us that isn't right, not, of course, that there aren't enough options from which to choose.
Well, I don't know what possessed me to write about this tonight. I needed something time consuming to occupy my thoughts. I hate being in between books. I just bought Gravity's Rainbow but I'm having a hard time getting into it. I like the style but I think there are a lot of references that I'm either too stupid or too young to get. I'm of the opinion that if you have to force yourself to read a book, unless it is for school or you are really, really determined, why bother? Maybe I'll read it one day, or maybe, like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I'll start it twenty times and never read it. I suppose everyone can't like the same things. How bland would that be?


Jeannie said...

400 IS a lot to pay for a 2 room cabin in the middle of nowhere with no amenities AT ALL! I'm shocked the woman would take your money over the winter months - looks like it had no insulation whatsoever - you could have frozen to death. I lived in a modern home in the middle of nowhere and when the power went down in winter for a day or so - that was enough for me.

I know what you mean about conforming. I always feel a little claustrophobic if there is a lot of pressure to be a certain way. On the other hand, owning a home is a good investment.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

You have led a deeply interesting life. I think the cabin sounds great. It was very brave of you, but then, as you said, most of us are braver when we are young.

It is sad to lose track of those we love, but it happens frequently in life.

I moved to New York City, knowing no one, right after I graduated from college. I didn't think twice about it. I just figured, if you want to be a writer, Manhattan is the place to be.

I look back on that time with amazement. Not sure whether it was brave or really stupid. Maybe both.

Love, SB.

Nellie said...

Jeannie - You're right, a home would be nice to have. I probably will have one some day. I just feel like to have all that we give up a lot too. But I don't feel that way every day. In the northeast we have a saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes". That's me and my emotions and opinions. So we'll see, it's a confusing world these days, I guess. And I think that woman really needed money. She was a single mother and really crazy. She had lived there herself for a while, hence the dog ending up there, I think. But it was still wrong of her, but we agreed I suppose. Thanks for keeping up w/my rants. Always good to hear from you.

SB - Both, for sure. I think everything that is brave must be a little stupid, or we wouldn't be brave to do it in the first place, I guess. I wish I had had the sense to try NYC, it is the place to be for someone who wants to write. But I just didn't know what I wanted when I was younger, I was even more unstable than I am now. It's sad that we do lose touch with so many people over time, I thought I just had a problem with that. But perhaps it happens to everyone.

Jeannie said...

Replying here to your comment over on mine...I'm in Ontario, Canada. Medical marijuana is legal IF you have applied and been accepted and have the card. My doctor refuses to apply because she's just simply against it. Which is her right I suppose but it won't stop me from using it if it works better than anything she gives me and she'll just have to get used to that. I'll try a lot of things to feel better - most of which she is automatically against even if she hasn't a clue what it is. I am happy to admit it if they don't work but she's not quite as open about it. Mind you, I will only try something if it makes sense. (like a nutritional supplement). I find it amazing that GABA from the health store (an amino acid) has totally taken away the anxiety I had for as long as I remember. I think I was borderline paranoid and now I'm pretty relaxed. Makes you wonder what other conditions could be fixed so easily. - It's really just the same as diabetics needing insulin right?

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