TTSM is now being veiwed in Montana. Here's to Bruce...
No footprints in snow
A recent letter to Backwoods Home referred to the snow-covered cabin on the front of Backwoods Anthology No. 12 and stated it has “no footprints and snow on the roof. It’s cold in there.”
If that were my cabin I know what I would find there: solitude, blessed solitude. There were tracks there only three days ago. New snow has obliterated the tracks. The cabin “is” cold. In fact, it has been cold for two weeks.
It may have taken me all day to get there and evening is approaching. I may have driven several hundred miles and been occupied with life’s necessities enroute.
If I’m driving a four-wheel drive pickup, I have arrived to within a couple hundred yards of the cabin on a plowed county road (God bless the men who drive the plows) and now I must walk, ski, snowshoe or snowmobile up to the cabin. The snowmobile parked nearby stalls due to extreme cold and I confirm with myself that it is time to sell that obstinate machine. I walk to the house carrying the few items that I want to preserve from a night of cold or need to have with me.
As I arrive inside, I begin the process of warming the cabin from a current temperature of 28 degrees F. The low reading on the thermometer indicates that the indoor temperature was recently as low as 5 degrees F. Outside temperatures have been between -20 and -30 degrees F in the last week, so that low reading may only indicate the limits of the thermometer’s ability to register. I turn on the propane furnace, light a kerosene heater, light the oven, and build a fire in the woodstove. Kindling was prepared and the wood box filled prior to my last departure. After several hours, the house is warming and I can turn down the furnace, turn off the oven and kerosene heater, and rely on the woodstove to provide heat for all. Although the house is soon warm enough to go about without a coat, it takes nearly 24 hours to bring the whole house up to operating temperature throughout; which, importantly, includes drain lines.
I know that I will find items of necessity such as water and food in storage where it won’t freeze. Canned foods, dry foods, and drinking water are in the root cellar. Frozen foods are in the freezer. Several rolls of summer sausage are hung in paper sacks to dry. Seeds for sprouts are in the cupboard and take just a few days to produce a fresh crop. Water for use other than drinking is stored in plastic buckets that are, in turn, set inside flat-bottomed metal basins just in case the buckets burst from freezing and spill their contents. The water in the buckets is frozen. The buckets have not burst. They will require from 24 to 48 hours to thaw completely, maybe more. The new snow is a boon for the soft water that is provided when melted atop the wood stove in stainless-steel pots. A spring-fed hydrant outdoors provides water to be carried indoors.
About the time of the winter solstice, knowing I would be absent for extended periods, I winterized the house, draining all water, and filling the lines with RV antifreeze. So there is no indoor water supply. A portable commode provides relief indoors and a passive solar privy provides relief outdoors. When the sun is shining, this privy is a warm oasis and refuge. Today, it is barely 25 degrees F.
Bathing is accomplished in several ways depending upon need and occasion. Daily ablutions are achieved via washcloth and warm water in a stainless-steel bowl. Such a bowl can be warmed atop the woodstove or kitchen range and its design with sloping sides rather than flat bottom allows for a small amount of water to suffice for wash-up. A shower every few days comes from a weed sprayer converted to a shower. (I should stress that the weed sprayer was bought new for use as a shower and has never had anything but water in it.)
For entertainment, reading materials abound as well as world-band radio and television. Musical instruments are available for soulful laments and joyful jubilations. Being weary, I opt for the warmth of the woodstove and the presence of radio accompanied by pleasant reflections of positive relationships and jobs finished.
Photo credit: Pat Ward
Numerous chores demand attention, however. There is wood to be chopped, water to be carried, other projects to be finished, hobbies to be perpetuated, birds to be fed, and items to be put in their place. I make a list of chores to be accomplished for tomorrow. Next day I awake refreshed and grateful for my home. Skeeter, my dog of 14 years, is stretched out on her bed in the corner. She is glad to be home, too!
After a leisurely cup of coffee with my backside perched near the warm woodstove, I study The Word and catch up with news and commentary on the radio or television. I listen to weather forecasts and updates to determine what the day in particular and the week in general might bring. Falling, blowing snow is being carried horizontally on a 20 mile-per-hour wind and temperatures do not exceed 20 degrees F. It is a good day to stay indoors and write or relax. Weather forecasts for the rest of the week are similar.
Since Thanksgiving holiday, more than 10 feet of snow has fallen. Very little of the snow has melted, but all of it has settled into a crust a foot or more thick that is hard enough to walk on and, in places, hard enough to drive on. It is now mid-February. The long nights are giving way to longer days but the earth shows only a few signs of spring as the sun reflects off the snow-covered mountains and valleys. The soft, fluffy new snow piles into and onto existing drifts, which exceed four-foot depths in places.
I retrieve all of the items left in the pickup yesterday. With them sorted and put away, I turn my attention to the record keeping necessary for a small business to operate. That, and a few letters that I write, fill as much of my day as I want to fill.
My neighbor stops by and we drink tea and visit for several hours. He tells of finding a mountain lion kill 300 yards from his house. An old friend calls on the phone and we have a short visit. Somehow the day slips away and I accomplish little else.
By now, though, the cold cabin has a look of warmth and activity again. Footprints are in the snow all around the house and to the shop. Snowmobile tracks make a trail from the road. And smoke rises from the chimney.
I leave you with a quote from Grey Owl’s Tales of an Empty Cabin:
“And the dingy, empty cabin was transformed, and took on again something of the glamour of its former days, and seemed once more an enchanted hall of dreams. So that it was no more an abandoned heap of logs and relics, but was once again...in all its former glory.
“And quite suddenly the place that had seemed to be so lonely and deserted was now no longer empty, but all at once was filled with living memories and ghosts from out the past.”
Bruce Waller Lewistown, Montana