In the second of this two-part series, I am going to talk about the aftermath of my experience, my healing process, what led me to become the person I am, and ultimately to writing my book. I’ll say it again, every word in this story is true. Cross my heart and hope to…oops, too late.
When we left off, I had died. I fell sixteen stories, hit the ground, boom, over. In most cases, the story would end there. But I’ve got more to tell. So let’s begin.
Good friends, indeed.
My friends still gathered around the campfire had lost sight of us as we climbed. But suddenly they saw a flash of light high in the sky, and heard me scream. Looking over, they saw my body dropping like a bag of rocks to hit the ground. Some say they can still remember the sound of my body hitting the earth. A “whump” that never fades. They leapt up and one came rushing over to see me. Taking one look at me lying there in the dirt, he pronounced me dead and turned his head away.
My girlfriend, in a panic, fled the scene to drive to my
parents’ house, seeking help. My parents had gone on vacation in Utah to visit
my grandparents, but my younger sister was there at home, and my girlfriend
told her that I was dead. She immediately called my parents to let them know
the news, but unable to explain the how and why.
Meanwhile, another friend drove quickly to a pay phone (no cell phones in those days) and called 911. Waiting at the phone booth, he led the ambulance back to our location, just off of Eight Mile Road. Finally, my best friend who had been on the tower with me climbed down with all the speed he could manage. Approaching me, he knelt in the dirt and wrapped his arms around me crying. “Don’t die”, he said, sobbing into my shoulder, his body shaking with grief. “Don’t die man, don’t die.” And that is when I didn’t die. That is when I woke up.
“Get off me, it hurts”, I grumbled to my friend before
blacking out again. Sometime later I woke up in intense pain, as I was being
placed in a stretcher and carried up the hill to the road on top of the levee,
and the waiting emergency vehicle there. It didn’t last and consciousness faded
once again. I woke up once more in an ambulance with a medic asking me, “How
you doin’? Does it hurt?” “Only when I laugh”, was my response before passing
out one last time.
I was taken to the closest hospital to get stabilized, and then taken to another hospital and set up in the intensive care unit there. I don’t have any memory of this. My parents, upon getting the call from my sister, immediately started calling the police to find out where my body had been taken. Not to a morgue, they discovered, and were directed instead to emergency rooms, finally tracking me down. The doctors told them to stay put in Utah so that they were reachable by phone. I can only imagine the anxiety they felt. As my mom is fond of telling, she fought against the anguish with humor. You know that kind that bubbles up during inappropriate and stressful times. “If he makes it through this, I’ll kill him!” was what she told my father.
I woke up in an oddly shaped bed in the hospital. It was roundish and had these slots into which my arms and legs fit. And it would rock from side to side, keeping me in motion and keeping the blood from pooling. The pain was indescribable.
I was in the ICU for about 5 days. I had broken my pelvis in two places, broken three ribs, and shattered my right cheekbone. Evidently, my face hit one of those steel anchor cables on my way down, which had the benefit of slowing my fall slightly and spinning my body so that I landed on my back in the rain-softened earth, sinking several inches into the dirt. My jeans exploded along the seams on impact, and my head landed just two feet away from a block of concrete. The doctors told me later that the electricity had probably stopped my heart, essentially killing me and making my body limp. The impact of the ground started it back up. So many tiny boxes that needed to be checked to allow me to survive.
Every day in the ICU my chances for survival increased. If I
remember right, it started at about 20% and moved up daily from there. I was in
and out of consciousness, catching bits of conversation between the doctors and
nurses. Eventually, I was transferred out of the ICU and into a regular room. Looking
back, I feel terrible for my hospital roommate. I was in constant, intense
pain, moaning and swearing up a storm in that Catholic St. Joseph’s hospital.
I was not well-liked by my nurses, something I learned as I was coming out of anesthesia after having plastic surgery on my face to remove my cheekbone and replace it with a metal plate. I don’t think the attendants knew I was awake yet, and they were talking about my cursing and complaining, and how the nurses looked at me as a problem case. Hey, you try surviving a 16-story fall and find out if you don’t complain through the pain! Well, I vowed to be better and suffer in silence from that point on.
bed would lift to a vertical position, and after about a week of being in the
regular room, I had a therapist start working with me to get me to stand. The
pain was too intense and I couldn’t deal with being vertical for more than a
second or two before I begged for him to lower me back down.
After several more days, it was getting easier and I was getting bored out of my mind. My parents were back in town and visiting me daily. Friends stayed away because they hated seeing me broken like that, but I understood. I just wanted to get out of there. So I reached out to my doctor. He wanted me to stay much longer, go through physical therapy, and heal more. I told him no, I could do therapy from the outside. He finally agreed that if I could get myself into a wheelchair and get around, he would let me go. I redoubled my efforts and within days, I managed to do so. True to his word, he let me out. Sixteen days after entering the hospital, I was going home.
The magical healing powers of the cabin.
I went home in a wheelchair, but my recovery was far from over. Daily sessions with a physical therapist eventually moved me out of the wheelchair and into a walker. I got to the point where I could drive again, and went to visit my friends who had been there that night. Though they were happy to see me, it was hard for them to watch their friend, once so vibrant and full of energy, struggle with a walker. I hadn’t been able to eat in the hospital and I was emaciated beyond belief, my rib cage looking like those terrible pictures of starving children. And the pain was chronic, never-ending. The nerve damage in my leg a constant companion that the medication could only dim, but never extinguish.
Two and a half months after the accident, my father was preparing to go and open the cabin for the summer. He asked me if I wanted to join him for the trip. I did, but I felt this tremendous depression about being there in the place I love, yet being broken. I had graduated to using a cane at this point, but I wouldn’t even be able to walk down the trail to dock where I could look at the lake. I didn’t know if I could handle it.
But I went with him, and after the long drive to the cabin, we arrived. My spirits rose immediately upon getting there. The fresh pine-scented air was wonderful and I felt rejuvenated in a way I hadn’t felt since before the accident. I slowly and carefully made my way down to the lake, one shuffling step at a time, fearing tripping over a stone or root and falling. But finally reaching the dock, I looked out across the glassy surface of the water. I needed this. And the healing has begun.
I shouldn’t have had any doubts about going with my father to the lake. As if everything that had happened up until this point wasn’t miraculous enough, I had one more miracle awaiting me. I was healed at the lake. Within a week of arriving, I was water-skiing. The pain faded away and I no longer needed the cane. I remember a vivid dream I had there. Never before and never since have I had one so clearly symbolic. In the dream, I was running swiftly across low foothills, slamming into electrical towers one after another and toppling them to the ground. I had done it. I had beaten this tragic event, slogged through the pain and suffering, and come out the other side. I was back to who I was before the accident, with one major change for the better.
A life to love.
I had discovered a new appreciation of life and everything in it, and I don’t know how to explain it, except that it was an awakening. I saw everything in nature in a new light, and I took the time to really listen and observe. Colors were brighter, sounds were clearer. Music was more beautiful. And people were more important to me than ever before. Friends, family, strangers, it didn’t matter. Everyone was a life to love, and everything was an object to cherish. I became a better person. I’m not saying I’m the best person, far from it. But I became kinder, more appreciative, more loving, and more generous.
look back on that event as a horrible experience, but I wouldn’t change a
thing. It helped shape me into the person I am today, and I like who I am. I
still bear the physical scars, though you’d have to look closely to see them. A
large burn mark on my arm where the electricity hit me, and smaller circular
burns on the opposite side of my arm where it came through. Even a burn on the
bottom of my foot where it traveled down my body and exited. One eye socket
appears slightly deeper than the other, and my hips are a bit out of alignment.
I also have a hole in my ribcage where a chunk of bone shifted and attached to
a new spot. But I have no pain and I play racquetball regularly. So overall I’d
say not too bad!
Thank you for taking the time to read this extra-long post. As I said, every word of it is true, so if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to respond below. I am fortunate to be alive now, and to be able to look back on these memories and share them with you. My healing time at the cabin is part of what makes the place so magical for me, and allowed me to create the world that I’ve built forThe Passage at Moose Beach.
If I can leave you with anything, it’s this. Take the time to enjoy life. Don’t let your eyes pass by a purple flower without noticing it. Don’t let the song of a bird disappear without hearing it. Don’t let a warm breeze on a sunny afternoon in Spring go by without feeling it. And don’t let a day go by without telling at least one person you care for that you love them.
I am one month away from the 30-year anniversary of a profoundly life-changing event. Something that not only affected me, but those around me as well. My closest friends and family. It changed who I was at a core level and in many ways, continues to reverberate through my life to this day. I expect it will for the rest of my life.
I have previously touched on this event. With this post, I
am going to go into more detail about the experience. Some of this information
I have heard from others, and I will share those moments as best I can. But
most of this comes from my own memory of events. And given that it has been
almost 30 years, some of those memories may be hazy. But trust me. Every word
of this story is true.
Before the event: An undiagnosed disorder.
I was a pretty typical kid from a middle income family. Growing up in the suburbs, I enjoyed a life with little stress. I never wanted for anything, and my parents were both loving. As I reached my teenage years, I’d gotten unruly, as is typical for any teenager. But I faced an additional challenge that was improperly diagnosed in those days. ADHD.
For those familiar with the disorder, you know that someone afflicted, especially children, can have a difficult time. Many think, “Oh, the child can’t sit still or is easily distracted.” That may be true of some, but not of all. In fact, some people, as is the case with me, can become hyper-focused on one specific thing, tuning out everything around them in the process. And this is only a small element of how ADHD affects someone’s behaviors. Here is a very basic rundown of symptoms: https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/signs#1
The symptoms on that list are only surface level. The greater effects, especially on adults, can be things like difficulties in relationships and marriage, the inability to hold a job, criminal behavior, substance abuse, inappropriate social skills, eating disorders, etc. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adult-adhd/symptoms-causes/syc-20350878. It is treatable to a degree with medication. And you can learn and practice techniques to adapt and manage when you are older. But as a teenager and moving into early adulthood, I didn’t know much about it. I was just overall, not a nice person. I had a few good friends and didn’t care much for others. And my relationship with my parents was strained, to say the least.
I did show some of those negative behaviors also. I enjoyed drinking alcohol several years before I was of drinking age. And I cut classes in school and I got caught shoplifting. I started working as soon as I could and went through several different jobs. However, it was two of the biggest symptoms that led to the events of that night, March 27th, 1989. Impulsiveness and recklessness. On some subconscious level, I guess I thought I was immortal, or simply didn’t care. Well that night, I got a chance to test that belief.
It was a dark and stormy night. Ok, so maybe it was only half that. The storm had come through a few days earlier, leaving the ground soft and damp, probably one of the big reasons why I am still here and able to write this. It was dark, though the sky was clear. And my friends and I decided to go to the levee outside of town, build a campfire, drink some beers, and watch the stars.
The Delta river extends from the central valley of California
out to the San Francisco bay area. It is wide, though not as wide as the
Mississippi, and deep, and leads to the largest inland port in the country in
my hometown of Stockton. Yes, that was our slogan up there: Someplace Special.
Several years back, Forbes magazine called Stockton the worst city in America,
not once, but two different years! Forbes can go to hell.
I loved my hometown and still do. Just about any city in
America with a medium to large population has its share of crime. I know people
who have had to deal with that in Stockton. I’m lucky that I never have. And
for just about any type of cuisine you want, Stockton has a restaurant that’s
one of the best. Maybe not Michelin level, but seriously delicious. Let me know
if you want recommendations!
The tower on Correia Road.
Because of the Delta, Stockton is at risk of flooding, so
there are high levees surrounding the river everywhere. On the outskirts of
town, just off Eight Mile Road, is one such levee. Far enough away from town
that the police wouldn’t come out and hassle you for drinking, but close enough
to see the city lights.
Another feature of the river are the power poles spaced at intervals along the way. Because large cargo ships travel along the water to reach the inland port, these towers, built to carry the power lines from one side of the Delta to the other, need to be tall. Very tall. 160 feet tall. To put it in other terms, about the height of a 16-story building.
These towers do not look like your typical electrical tower,
the ones you picture standing out in a field somewhere. No, these are about
three feet square, shooting straight up into the sky. There are bars going up
each side in a zig zag pattern, like a ladder, if all the rungs were angled
back and forth rather than perfectly horizontal. They were built for climbing!
At least, that’s what this 21-year-old with no fear of heights or death
thought. Unfortunately, my best friend thought the same.
A race that cannot be won.
“Hey, I climbed part of that tower before.” Those were the words I said to my best friend that night as we sat around the campfire. There were five of us, and I wasn’t lying. I had once climbed up maybe 40-50 feet because I wanted to get a look at the city lights. And if you read my blog series about cabin life, you know I love to climb. By that age, however, I had stopped falling. Or so I thought.
I pointed off in the direction of the tower and my friend
looked. “Really?” he asked.
“Yep”, I replied.
“Let’s go do it!”
“Naw, I’m not in the mood”, I said. I’d had a beer and I was enjoying the campfire. I didn’t feel like moving away from the heat to climb down the small slope to the tower.
“Well, I’m going to do it”, he said with determination,
stood up, and started walking off in the direction of the tall structure. I
watched him go for a moment before rising from my camping chair and calling out
“Wait up, I’ll come too”, I said with resignation.
I caught up with him and together we reached the base of the
tower. It was built on this cement stand, probably four feet high, and starting
at about three feet up, there was screen wrapped around the tower extending
another five feet higher, to keep people (like me) from climbing it. It was a
pathetic barrier, as it was easy enough to slip between the “rungs” of the
tower and climb up the interior. Which is exactly what we both did.
After moving high enough to pass the screen barrier, I climbed back to the outside of the tower, as it was crowded in the middle with the two of us. Together we climbed, my friend on the inside and me hanging onto the outside like some ant traveling up the tall stem of a sunflower.
We stopped at the 50-foot mark, which was indicated by
several steel cables attached to the tower and stretching down to the ground
below, anchoring the tall structure in place to keep it from swaying in the
wind. There were more cables at the two-thirds mark and again at the top. We
paused and looked out toward the city and the lights glowing there. I remember
it being so beautiful in that cold and clear night air. After a few moments
rest, my friend said, “Let’s go higher!” And who was I to say no. So on we
At some point, I glanced at my friend and we both got this competitive look in our eyes. Our climbing got a little faster as it slowly evolved into a race. I didn’t know what we were racing toward, or what the finish line was supposed to be. But I won the race to the top. And I won the race to the bottom.
Floating at the speed of 12,000 volts.
I was ahead by a few feet, when suddenly my friend stopped
climbing. I came to a halt as well, looking at him. “Why did you stop?” I
“Because we are at the top!”
I never looked up. That was my mistake. I am sure some of you are saying right now, “That was your mistake? Out of all the bad decisions you made that night, THAT was your mistake??” You’re right, of course. But in that moment and in my head, that was my mistake.
I looked up then. And mere feet away from my head were
electrical power lines. Thick and dark, they looked no different from the
stability cables that we passed on the way up. Except that these didn’t extend
down, they extended horizontally, trailing away to get lost in the darkness.
I had two consecutive thoughts rush through my head at that point. The first was, “I need to get down now.” The second thought was much more confusing and terrifying. “Why am I not hanging on anymore?”
I was frozen in time and space, like when Wile E. Coyote runs off the edge of a cliff and hangs there suspended for a moment, realization slowly dawning, before plummeting in a puff of dirt. I was in the exact same position I had been a half second before, except now there were several feet of empty air between me and the tower.
You know that scene in Jurassic Park where the kid is climbing the electrical fence and the electricity gets turned on. Suddenly, he is thrown backwards off the fence. Yeah, well that was me. 12,000 volts of electricity arced out from the power line, striking me in my right arm and knocking me away from the tower. I never felt the electricity hit me. All I knew was that I was no longer attached to the tower and in my mind, everything froze. I screamed out, “Oh my god!” And then I fell.
While falling is an accurate description of what happened, it is not what I experienced. Our brains are powerful things and for me, time slowed down to a crawl. I floated down slowly, giving me all the time in the world to think about my life. It didn’t exactly flash before my eyes. I saw bits and pieces, memories of good times, nothing bad. I can’t tell you what I saw exactly. But something that stands out as half remembered is the song Jerusalem playing in my head. I no longer remember if it was Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s version of an old hymn, or the song from Sinead O’Connor, I only remember the title now. Read into that what you will, it happened.
In my head, it took at least a minute for me to reach the ground, though in reality it was only two, maybe three seconds. Since then, I have spoken with other victims of near-death events and they have experienced the same time-slowing phenomenon. I was so high up, there was nothing but darkness below. I came to the understanding that I was going to die, and I accepted that. My last words spoken were, “I’m dead”, softly and calmly. And then blackness.
I don’t know when it happened. I don’t think anybody over
the age of 30 really does. One minute you’re excited because you’re of legal
drinking age, yay!! Then you turn around and you are simply an adult.
This final post in the Cabin Life series will talk about my
time spent at the lake as an adult. Interestingly, while this encompasses the
largest part of my entire lifespan, this post will not be significantly longer
than the previous ones. Time passes more quickly as you age, and memories need
to be more powerful to stand out.
I also think the memories are more complicated when you are older, because the self-centeredness of youth is gone. You are no longer remembering things only from your viewpoint, but instead you are also remembering how other people reacted or interpreted those events. For example, when you are a child, you might remember your younger sibling taking their first steps. When you are a parent, you not only remember that your child took their first steps or said their first words, you also remember how your partner reacted and you might even remember the look of surprise and delight on your child’s face. Because of this, the memories are more layered and filled with depth.
Anyway, I’m not here to talk about the concept of memories,
but rather the memories themselves. And so, let’s continue.
A different perspective.
When I was 19, I took a girlfriend to the cabin. It was the first time that I had to make that long drive myself, and it was also the first time that I really saw the entire experience from another point of view. Things that I had found commonplace, suddenly took on new meanings and forced me to see everything in a different light.
Squirrels. I love them, and every summer you can find me
sitting in a chair on our deck with a handful of peanuts, gently scratching a golden
mantled squirrel between its ears while it stuffs its cheeks. The first time a
squirrel jumped onto my girlfriend’s lap with no notice, she squealed, a little
freaked out. It just wanted to know if she had some goodies. She grew to love
them as I did, but I clearly remember that first reaction.
The first time I took a group of friends, it was similar. Four different couples, all in our early 20s. The general attitude of all of them was “party time in the woods!” and it was probably like that for a day or two. But then the energy of the lake took hold. I could sense a subtle change in each of them, as they began taking more time to look and listen. The forest has a lot to say, if you have the mind to hear it.
I watched these changes in my friends. It’s funny in
thinking about it now, the ones who loved and understood what the lake provides
most are the same ones I am still friends with to this day. I guess in a way,
it was my own sort of litmus test, to check my compatibility level with people.
Since then, I have watched several new people experience the
lake in their own ways. I get so much joy watching another person’s face light
up at the sight of a bald eagle flying above, or the way the full moon reflects
back on the mirrored surface of the water. Or hearing one of the amazing
thunderstorms that come through, shaking the forest with rumbling booms that seem
to echo more loudly and for longer around the valley. Sharing the cabin is one
of my favorite gifts that I can give.
Loss pt. 2: Losing my religion.
After a 13 year battle with cancer, I lost my father when I was 26. It was in December, at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. While the partygoers were gathered around their televisions watching the ball drop, my family was gathered around a hospital bed in our house watching my father take his last breaths. I could hear the tv on in the other room, behind the soft sobs of my family. I could hear the countdown begin. I watched my father’s chest stop rising and falling the moment that glittering ball touched down. There was no singing and kissing in our house. For us, New Year’s Eve will never be the same again.
Six months later, I was at the cabin. Everything looked the same, but everything was different. The past several months had been the hardest of my life. That type of grief is deep. People say it gets easier, and honestly it does. But not one year later. Not five years or even ten years later. But eventually. Though I guarantee you’ll be sitting in your car 20 years after the fact and a song will come on the radio and suddenly you’ll be sobbing, trying to blink away the tears as you drive.
That following summer, I went to all the places I knew
around the lake. All the locations my father had introduced to me. All of the
places I considered MY places now. The old swimming pool. The natural springs.
The lookout towers high in the mountains. I was searching. Searching for a
reason, a meaning. Any sign that God existed and that there was purpose behind
my father’s death.
When I was 21, I died. That is not metaphorically speaking, that is literal. I fell sixteen stories and hit the ground. But I came back to life. Why? Why did I, someone who was not the best person in the world at the time, deserve to be alive and not my father, who in my opinion was a great man? Well, I stomped all through those woods and over those mountain ranges looking for an answer that was not coming. Religion died for me that summer. I still felt the peace of the forest, and I still felt spiritual, just not in the way the churches tell you to be. Please don’t preach at me, I’ve heard it all by now. My soul will be fine.
I also vowed that summer to be the best person I could be.
Someone that my dad would be proud to call his son. I would treat people with
respect. I would follow the golden rule. I would try to be just and fair. I’m
not perfect. I’m no saint. I have failed more than once. But I try. I love you,
Through a child’s eyes.
In February of ’97, my daughter was born. I was terrified,
not knowing or believing I was ready for this. Four months later, she visited
the cabin for the first time. I can’t say she was thrilled by that initial
visit, but I do remember her inquisitive eyes. And watching her grow through
the following years was wonderful.
I gave her the same freedoms I had as a child, my wife and I raising her as a free-range child. We made sure she knew how to swim, and I took her to all the locations my father and grandfather had taken me. I taught her about frogs and fairies, garter snakes and goblins. She learned to appreciate the deer and the squirrels. She learned to pilot a boat, though she never learned to ride a motorcycle. Not yet anyway.
I watched the wonder in her eyes at seeing all of these magical places. Everything I had loved as a child, she found the same love for. She had her own set of walkie-talkies and she would explore to her heart’s content. I remember sitting on our deck and picking up the walkie-talkie from the patio table to check in. Click: “You ok?” Click: “Yeah, I’m fine.” Click: “Ok, let us know if you need anything.” Click: “Ok, bye.”
She would always bring home something interesting she had
found on her hike. Rocks, pinecones, a stick, something that spurred her
imagination. And she was always completely filthy. I really don’t know how kids
can get so dirty and simply not care. But she was, all the time. I’m sure
guests thought we never bathed her.
A memory that stands out clearly for me is a road trip we took with some friends to a nearby town. A small place called Yellow Pine, about 45 minutes away, down a dirt road. They hold a harmonica festival there every year. I had gone on my motorcycle, while everyone else drove in the car. Heading home to the cabin, I asked if my daughter wanted to go back with me on the bike, or in the car. She chose the bike, and so we headed out. The ride home was cold, and she was snuggled up tight against my back, arms wrapped around me, hands buried in my jacket pockets to stay warm. Every so often I would reach down and pat her arm, asking how she was doing. “I’m good” was the response. I remember thinking back to riding this way with my father, and I felt a few tears come, traveling sideways across my face rather than down, being blown by the wind. I wonder if she remembers that ride. I’ll have to ask her.
A treasure to cherish.
The cabin is a place of incredible importance in the life of
my family, my brother and sisters, and my mom. It is the same for some very
close friends. Your perspective changes on things like that as you get older.
When I was young, it was just a second home. A place we stayed during the
summers. But as an adult, it is a treasure. A place to take pride in. To
respect and honor and appreciate in different ways.
When I look at the cabin now, I look at what needs to be fixed and maintained. I look at how clean the property is, inside and out. I said before that when I was young, I always remember my grandfather being busy. My parents too. There was a time for work and a time for rest. I understand the work now. Making sure the cabin lasts for several more generations is a priority. I want my family’s descendants to be able to have the same magical experiences I had. It is more than just a home now. It is a place of comfort, of worship, and of rejuvenation.
These days, I don’t get to spend the time there that I want to. My mother has the luxury of retirement and so enjoys the full summer there. But for my wife and I, work and responsibility only allow us a few weeks each year. But I cherish every moment of that time, even if it’s only a quick three-day weekend to recharge my soul’s batteries.
In 2018, I spent a week at the cabin completely alone for the first time in my life. It was in that solitude that I began writing The Passage at Moose Beach. My wife had planted the seed of the story in my head almost ten years earlier. I had never been a writer. But there at the cabin, surrounded by the quiet, the memories of my life’s experiences, and the ghosts of people past, I sat down at the keyboard and Alicia was born.
Looking back over these posts, I see a common thread of family. This came out as well when I was writing the book, in ways I didn’t expect. I don’t think I realized until now just how much of an impact family had on shaping my memories of the experiences that inspired my writing.
Alicia is a mix of me, my daughter, my mother, my wife, and
all of the people who find joy and well-being in nature. My artist, Gloria
Miller Allen, is actually the mother of someone who owns a cabin on the lake.
This was a very important factor to me when reaching out to her. I wanted
someone who understood that place, who could really bring out the beauty and
magic there, to be my illustrator. I believe she did an excellent job!
I received a review on Amazon, which I am very proud of. A section of it reads, “The author’s deep description of the environment was simply reflecting the type of place I enjoy the most; Naturally, I was able to picture myself in this cabin with my family and my new daughter!…As soon I finished the book, this was my conclusion: this will be the very first book I will read to my daughter!” For me, this is the strongest indicator that I accomplished what I set out to write. A story full of love and compassion, and that captures the magic of youth and the strength of a young girl.
Thank you for going on this journey
with me. I truly hope you enjoyed it. It was emotional and brought back some
incredible moments for me. My cabin life was very much abbreviated here, and
there are so many other memories that I could talk about. How I burned the skin
off my foot by stepping into a boiling hot spring, or how I chased a cougar
across a field to get a picture, unaware that there was a second cougar
following close behind me. Or watching one of my very best friends plummet
through a tree’s branches and tumble down the mountain below. Or my horrifying
experience with a giant water bug! But it would have taken a lot more than five
posts to get through all that.
If you have questions, please feel free to ask below. If you liked this series, or if you didn’t, you can let me know that too. All my love to my friends and family, immediate and distant, that helped shape my time at the lake, and in turn shaped both me and my book. A huge word of gratitude to my partners at Calling Card Books who helped me craft my story and share it with all of you. And to all of my readers who have given your time to me. I am grateful for each and every one of you.
In this penultimate part of the Cabin Life series, I am going to be talking about my teenage years at the cabin, though the timelines around the edges may be blurred. I don’t really remember if some things happened when I was 12 or when I was 13, but they all occurred in this general time frame, and they were all affected by that cruel joke played on all humans. It’s that person in gym class waiting to sneak up behind you and pull your shorts down. That gassy bubble rumbling loudly through your intestines when you have your hand raised, waiting for the teacher to call on you. It’s that knock to your forehead that leaves you momentarily dazed. We call it puberty.
Being a teenager is equal parts fun, frustrating, challenging, confusing, and embarrassing. You are not quite an adult yet, but you certainly think you know everything. You are starting to notice the opposite sex, or maybe the same sex, and changes are happening at a rapid pace. Some kids are fortunate and seem to breeze through this time with ease. At least that is what outside appearances suggest. Others suffer terribly, growing at different rates and sizes, perhaps developing a severe case of acne, or a larger than average chest, which is uncomfortable and embarrassing. And a teenager’s looks and self-image can be everything during this stage of life. Me, I fell pretty solidly in the middle of all that.
While I had been a very outgoing child, entering my teenage
years, I got glasses. My fashion sense wasn’t great either, no thanks to my
parents who still picked out my clothes for me. I wasn’t an ugly kid, but I was
definitely geeky and lacked a muscular physique. But I felt confident. At least
until I asked Michelle to the 8th grade dance and she very clearly
said no. My first heartbreak, and my first realization that whereas before, I
had always had good relationships with both boys and girls, things were
Living separate lives.
The differences between my two lives, my two worlds, really became apparent during this time. At home in California, everyone knew who I was. We’d all grown up together, going to the same grade school, and now at the same middle school. Eventually, we’d all be in the same high school. But at the cabin I left all that behind. It was my sanctuary.
At the lake, I knew all the cabin owners. I got along well
with adults in general, and I completely enjoyed hanging out at one lodge or
the other, learning about the old times. Heck, I even learned to square dance
at the bi-weekly dances they would have out on the patio at the North Shore
Lodge. I would spin my grown-up partners through the group with an Allemande
Left and a Do Si Do, finishing with a Promenade back to starting position.
On the other hand, I was a stranger to all the tourists who came in each weekend. I was a local, yet I had this California accent that didn’t quite fit with the Idaho folk. And I had a motorcycle! Every Friday afternoon, you could find me zipping about on my Kawasaki 90, around the lodges and through the campgrounds, seeing the new families that were arriving and looking to see if there were any cute girls. More than once, the sheriff followed me home to tell my parents that I had been going way too fast through those areas, and without a helmet, which I never wore.
I would get a talking to, and my motorcycle privileges would be restricted for a bit. So instead I’d take the boat over (I had a boat too!) and go visit the campground manager, this old grizzled guy who looked a bit like Willie Nelson. He’d take me on his campground tour to collect fees, and I get to meet all of the families in person.
To a young boy just discovering the opposite sex, this was a
grand time. Just getting to spend time with this ever-changing collection of
girls, having conversations and sharing my knowledge of the lake, was great for
building confidence. And yes, I might have kissed one or two of them during
those long summers.
The re-introduction of religion.
I grew up Presbyterian, but stopped attending church once I was given the choice to be able to stay home. I found the sermons interminably boring. After I entered high school, a friend from choir asked if I wanted to attend a Campus Life meeting. I didn’t know what that was, but I said sure, because it was an opportunity to be social. And to be out of the house and away from my family, which I wanted more and more in those days. It turned out that Campus Life was a program of Youth for Christ, targeting high school students. We would play games for most of the time, with a little preaching thrown in at the end. Well I loved it, and through that I rediscovered religion.
Around the lake, there are two bible camps, one Baptist and
the other I am not sure. One of the motorcycle trails that I would ride went
near the Baptist camp, and I had stopped to talk with a camp counselor who told
me they had a high school group coming in the following week and that I should
stop by. I did, and for that week, I became an off-site member of the camp,
showing up for all the services, and participating in all the activities.
It was there that I discovered the band Mannheim Steamroller. Their album Fresh Aire II was an experience for me. They later became famous for their Christmas albums. I was a classically trained pianist by this time (thank you Mom and Dad!), and I would play along on the piano at the camp with the album. While playing the piano, I met a girl, shy and nerdy like me, with glasses and the whole bit.
Well, for that week we were inseparable. I was so deeply infatuated. That kind of infatuation that only teenagers in love can have. She was Sandy to my Danny. When she had to leave, I was devastated. We promised to write, which we did for a bit. But trying to have a long distance relationship, especially at that age, is almost impossible. These days, I can barely remember what she looks like. But I hope she is living a wonderful, healthy, and happy life.
I parted ways with religion too, several years later when my
father passed away. But I hung on to spirituality. When you spend any length of
time in the woods, it is impossible not to have some kind of sense of something
All play and no work.
In one of my previous posts, I talked about the “lazy days of summer”. Well those days got less frequent as I got older and I began to be responsible for some of the cabin maintenance. You see, a cabin in the woods requires a lot, especially when it gets buried in snow each winter. Not only the cabin, but the dock as well. When the lake freezes over, which it does each year, the frozen water shifts and wears at the dock, moving it from its supports. It must be reset on its foundation and occasionally needs new nails and boards. We actually have a floating dock now, eliminating much of that work.
Now the cabins themselves require much more. All the logs need to be painted with log oil to keep the moisture out. The roofs need to be swept free of pine needles, and they get painted with an oil as well, so that snow will slide off. There you are, walking around on the roof with a rope tied around your waist for safety, a bucket of oil nearby and a broom in hand to dunk and sweep, dunk and sweep. During the winter, metal pipes that are not fully drained of water will crack and burst, so I learned some minor plumbing skills as well. Did I enjoy this work? Not one bit and I complained like the devil!
The one task I did enjoy was chopping wood. Ever since I was young, I was taught how to handle an axe, and chopping wood was a great way to spend an hour or so, a couple of times a week. But now as a teenager, I was involved with the going out and collecting it part, which I hated. My father, grandfather, brother, and I would head out with the trailer, find trees that were dying or dead, and the chainsaw would come out. It was noisy, smelly, wood chips flying everywhere, and I despised every moment. Plus, then we had to load all of these cut logs into the trailer and haul them back to the cabin. If I had money, which of course I didn’t, I would have paid anyone to take my spot on those gathering trips.
So yes, there is a lot of maintenance involved in owning a
cabin, and it continues to this day. I still love to chop wood, and I can
handle a chainsaw pretty easily as well. I don’t mind the gathering part so
much anymore. Now stacking the split wood is another thing altogether. They
have machines that use a pneumatic press to quickly and efficiently chop wood.
Where’s the fun in that? But if they had a machine that neatly stacked wood? Oh
man, I’d buy that in a heartbeat!
My grandfather passed away when I was in junior high. Funny how writing this now, 40 years later, brings tears to my eyes. I think this is the first time I’ve cried about it in almost just as long. The process of writing this series must have immersed me in these memories more than I realized.
He was a magnificent man. His name was Charles Gill, or Charlie, as he went by. As much a father to me during those summer months as my own father. More than once, my parents would leave to go on a trip, sometimes for a day or two, sometimes for a week or a month, and I would be left in the care of my grandparents. My grandmother had a wicked sense of humor, but my grandfather was always strong and stern. In my memories he towered over me, a commanding figure. Always busy, always working. But he was always willing to teach as well, never saying no, I shouldn’t do this or that.
He is the one that taught me to water-ski. He taught me to
slalom (skiing with only one ski) several years later. He taught me to swim, to
chop wood, to pilot a boat, and to fly fish. My age was never a factor. If I
wanted to learn, he would teach me. And if I did it wrong, he wouldn’t raise
his voice. He had a patience that stands out in my mind. I didn’t realize how
much I would miss him until that first summer without him. I believe I am a
better, well-rounded man now because of him.
I made it through my teenage years without dying (the same
can’t be said about my adult life, but that’s another story.) I grew out of my
awkward teens, I got contact lenses, I started picking out my own clothes, and
I got a girlfriend.
I left behind the awkwardness, but I never left behind the magic. As I grew toward adulthood, I began to experience the cabin and the lake in new ways, and from a new perspective, seeing it through the eyes of others and enjoying their reactions to it as much as my own. I will talk more about that in the last post of the series.
As always, thank you for reading this. Comments and
questions are welcomed. Know that I will read them all.
In this third installment, I’ll be talking about how it was to have almost complete freedom at the cabin in my youth. I was without a doubt a young and budding explorer of those woods, with my parents not always knowing where I had gotten off to. My wife hears these stories and wonders how I didn’t kill myself, but even with all the cuts, scrapes, and bruises, in my memories I was the happiest kid on Earth.
These memories encompass my grade school years, probably
6-12 years of age, though I can’t speak with any accuracy about those earliest
of years. I’ve given you a general image of the location in the previous blog
post, so I’m going to refer to places from here on out in more general terms.
But where I need to add details, I will.
The free-range child.
As I mentioned, the freedom I had was second to none, there in that forest. But it started with baby steps. My brother and I would go on a lot of hikes with my father and grandfather, exploring nearby trails, watching for wildlife such as deer, squirrels, and rabbits, and discovering small springs where the water would softly burble from the ground. At least they were all discoveries for me. And my father always acted like they were the most secret and magical places, so I always felt that way too. I would sneak off from the cabin and walk to the closest of those spots, sit on a nearby rock, and just wonder at all the possibilities. What fairies and goblins lived here? I was sure if I could stay still long enough, they would appear. My patience knew no bounds, which was unusual for a child my age.
I began to go further and further on my own. My parents
eventually bought a set of walkie-talkies, so that I could leave one at the
cabin and check in as I explored. I learned where every trail within a mile
radius of our cabin went, where every stream or pond was that might contain
frogs, salamanders, or snakes, and where every large rock or tree was that I
One of my favorite stories that my parents would tell was
about the time they had several different guests visit, all with children of
their own. As the local, I was put to entertaining the kids, all of them about
my age. Well, what better way to entertain, then taking them on a hike to all
the magical spots I considered my own. I guess we had been gone for some time
and it was getting dark by the time we got back to the cabin. Let’s just say
the children’s parents were freaking out about their lost kids. Meanwhile, my
own mom and dad were nonchalant, saying, “Don’t worry, their fine. Mike knows
his way.” I don’t remember them visiting much after that, if ever.
The boundaries expand.
We had a rowboat and a wooden motorboat with a small engine,
both of which I learned to operate, become very proficient at them. These
allowed me to explore all the corners of the lake, drifting through the lily pads,
and stopping by the huge mound of dirt and sticks on the opposite shore that
was home to a family of beavers. I always enjoyed taking the motorboat over to
the lodge, where the local post office was, picking up the mail for the family,
and bringing it back to the cabin.
When I got a little older, my family purchased a set of
motorcycles for trail riding. I would go everywhere, clinging to the back of my
father, arms wrapped tightly around him as our range of exploration increased
even more. I begged him to let me ride one of the smaller ones myself. He said,
“If you can pick it up off the ground, you can ride it.” Well, it took a couple
more years, but by the time I was in 3rd or 4th grade, I
was learning to ride like a pro!
It was an absolute joy to ride those bikes through the woods. There was so much more to see than I had imagined. We had three bikes, and I would ride with my father and grandfather up to the mountain tops surrounding the lake. There always seemed to be some new trail or logging road to explore. One time, a bear came crashing down the mountain side from our left, ran across the road, and bounded down the hill to our right, continuing on out of sight. I was thrilled, and a little bit scared, at the sight of it.
Eventually, I was allowed to go on rides by myself. I’ll
admit, I probably rode faster than I should have, and I can’t count the number
of times I laid that bike down on its side, both the cycle and myself sliding
and bouncing down the dirt road after hitting a pothole at high speed. I’d get
home with scrapes and bruises that I would hide from my parents. I would head
to the shop to get a monkey wrench that I could use to bend the foot peg of the
bike back into place. But those were minor injuries compared to everything
Our semi-annual hospital visits.
All kids think they’re invincible, and I was no exception. Given the way I rode that motorcycle, it’s amazing I never seriously hurt myself on it. But I certainly hurt myself everywhere else. “Accident prone”, they called me. Well, I think you can only be accident prone if you put yourself into situations where an accident could happen. And I rarely played safely.
Climbing was one of my favorite things to do. Still is, as a
matter of fact. I love heights, and a gigantic collection of boulders, or a
huge pine tree makes a perfect jungle gym. I would climb high into the trees,
finding bird nests and just looking out across the land. Being careful was
never a priority for me, and so I fell out of a lot of trees too.
Seven sets of stitches in my head. That’s how many I now have. The hospital in the nearby town got to know my family, and I don’t remember for sure, but I think they may have talked to my parents about child endangerment once or twice. The third time I split my chin open, there was too much scar tissue, so the doctor just heavily bandaged it. I have a very clear memory of that doctor’s office and getting tetanus boosters. I never broke any bones, not as a child. Since then I have broken several throughout my body, but back then I never had a cast to restrict my exploration activities. To this day, I am thankful for that freedom that my parents gave me.
The sweetest dog in the world.
Her name was Katy, and she was a pitbull. Her markings were almost exactly the same as the dog from The Little Rascals show. I know the reaction some have to that breed of dog, and I know there have been some vicious attacks, but I believe a lot of that comes from a lack of training and the type of owner. I’m here to tell you that Katy was never aggressive, not to friends, family, children, strangers, or other animals. The woods around the cabin are filled with squirrels, many of which love to come and take a peanut out of your hand. Katy would lay on our patio, with squirrels scampering across her back, and not react in the least. I once had a bunch of baby rabbits and the mother wanted nothing to do with them. Katy treated those little bunnies like they were her own puppies.
She was protective of us kids, but of the oddest things. We
were a family of water-skiers, but that dog hated the boat engine. Perhaps it
was the growling sound coming from underwater, but she would stand on the dock
and bark furiously. Then when the boat took off, pulling the skier behind it,
Katy would launch herself from the dock into the lake and go swimming after the
boat, as far as she could.
Fireworks would also set her off, as they do most animals.
But where many pets will hide, Katy would run and grab the firework in her
mouth. We would set off whistlers and those spinning flowers on the dock during
the 4th of July, but after the first incident, we learned quickly
that the dog needed to be tied up or put in the cabin during these events.
I think her favorite thing was to run alongside us as we went on motorcycle rides. Ears flapping, she would keep pace for as long as she could for miles, eventually dropping behind. We would be taking a break by a small stream on some random road or trail far up in the mountains, hear a noise, look over and see Katy coming up the road to join us, throwing herself into the stream, laying on her belly in the cool water and lapping up as much of it as she could. I think she felt and appreciated the same freedom I experienced there and I felt a little closer to her because of that. I miss that dog.
All creatures great and small.
Aside from the dog, the squirrels, the deer, and the bear,
there were a lot of other animals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects in the
woods that I loved to find. Elk and moose were rare to see, but they were
around. There were also cougars, but those stayed to the higher elevations and
again, were rarely seen.
There was an abundance of hummingbirds, and I always loved to watch them zip around. Sometimes I would stand next to the feeder that we had, with my hand resting just below the spouts, fingers spread wide. It would take a while, but eventually at least one bird would come to sit on my hand and feed. There were also beautiful blue and black Stellar jays (Briar in The Passage at Moose Beach), and the Gray Jay, which we called Camp Robbers. The Gray Jay has little fear of humans and they always travel in threes. They are a gorgeous shade of light gray, with dark gray wings, and stand out among the green pine branches of the forest.
Insects were interesting to me as well. The black ants were
much larger than the small black ants in California, and they always seemed to
be doing their busy work in a solitary way, unlike their smaller cousins that
are always in groups. There were Jerusalem crickets, with round, fat, black
bodies, and some type of flying beetle with an iridescent shell. The beetles were
fascinating because if you grabbed them by their very long antennae, they would
make a squeaking sound. It probably wasn’t a nice or comfortable thing to do,
so I didn’t do it often. The most terrifying insect is the giant water bug. You
will learn a little more about them in my next book!
My favorite creatures were the reptiles and amphibians. I
would often catch Garter snakes, but you had to be careful because though their
bite wasn’t painful, they would, um, poo on you when you picked them up. And I
gotta say. That was a godawful stench that didn’t go away from one washing! I
loved to catch tadpoles and watch them grow into frogs, seeing their hind legs
slowly appear and their tails gradually shrinking. But the best were
salamanders. I would search under every fallen log near every pond that I could
find, looking for them. I think they are cute beyond words.
Evenings filled with love.
When I wasn’t exploring, swimming, or feeding squirrels, I
was listening to classic Disney records or playing games. There was this old
record player and we had all these Disney albums, most of which I can’t
remember now. They were essentially audiobooks of Disney stories and I would
listen to them over and over. We also had stacks of old 78s, and I developed a
huge appreciation of music from the 40s and on.
There was a great collection of board games, such as Elsie and Sorry, which we keep in a wooden cabinet. I would play these with my older brother and eventually my younger sister. And of course we had several decks of cards and I learned to play all the children’s games such as War and Go Fish, along with the more adult games like Hearts, Bridge, and Gin Rummy. Playing Cribbage with my grandmother was a common activity. But my favorite board game was Tripoley. It was a combination of board game and card game, with some mild betting, and the entire family would sit around the dining table and play together. We would play where you’d get five chips for a penny, and I would use my winnings to buy an apple or Fire Stix flavored Jolly Rancher candy from the lodge. Those memories are the best!
It was there at the cabin that I really developed my love of
reading. Without the distraction of a television, and no homework, it was easy
to get lost in a book for days on end. We had a lot of fairy tales, nature
books like those of Jack London, and some sci-fi. I read everything I could get
my hands on. Even if the book was for an older audience, I didn’t care. If I
didn’t understand, that was fine. I’d ask my parents, or just figure out things
through context. I believe the love of reading is one of the best gifts my
parents ever gave me.
The child grows.
Those summers seemed to last forever, as did my childhood.
But at the same time, both ended far too quickly. Pretty soon, it was time to
pack up and head home to California, preparing for the upcoming school year. I
remember my parents crying, each time we had to say goodbye to the cabin. My
final act before leaving was to go down to the dock one last time and look at
the lake, saying my private goodbyes and promising to be back the following
The next year came, and the year after that, and suddenly I
was a teenager with different priorities and different desires. But I’ll save
those stories for the next post.
Thank you so much for reading. I am happy to share my thoughts and even happier to answer any questions you might have about these times of my youth, so please feel free to ask below. There was much, much more to my visits, but most of that goes into my books. If you have read my first, I hope you can begin to see how Alicia was born.
This second installment of the Cabin Life series, is really just a description of the cabin and its surroundings. I had intended to jump right into my childhood, but I thought that it may be helpful to paint a picture of the location so that when I talk about the places I spent my time, you would have a clearer vision in your head. So thank you for staying with me as I continue my journey through my memories, and the landmarks and experiences that shaped The Passage at Moose Beach.
An introduction to the cabin.
As I mentioned in part one of this series, when my family arrived at the cabin each summer, my grandparents, my mother’s parents, would already be waiting. The cabin was built by my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, and it has remained in our family ever since. My grandparents were retired by the time I began visiting, and lived just a few hours away from the cabin location. During the winters, the water to the cabins around the lake would be turned off because of freezing. But as soon as the water was turned back on for the summer, my grandparents would immediately head there and take care of opening the cabin. This involved taking off the shutters from the windows, general cleaning, fixing any pipes that might have burst during the freezing months, and getting the boats into the water. They would remain throughout the summer, eventually closing the cabin in September or October for winter’s arrival once again.
My family actually has two cabins on our property, one which is considered the main cabin, with separate rooms for a kitchen, living/dining area, bathroom, bedroom, and front porch. When I was young, the master bedroom and bathroom did not exist yet. These were added during my early teens. So as a youth, my grandparents’ bed took up a corner space in the living area. There is also a large bed on the screened in front porch, which overlooks the lake. It is a wonderful place to sleep. You get to hear all the sounds that the night creatures make, including deer moving through the brush, and noisy “loons” on the lake with their bird calls that sound like crazy laughter, hence the name.
The second building is a small, one-room cabin, where my parents and we kids slept. The space was large enough for a queen bed for mom and dad and bunk beds for my brother and I. Cots with super warm, downy sleeping bags were added later as my younger sisters were born. There is a small table for breakfast, and a quaint little kitchen with a sink, stovetop, and a refrigerator. In one corner is a beautiful old wood-burning stove and oven, which my father would be sure to light first thing in the morning to fill the cabin with warmth and chase away the night’s chill. We had an 8-track tape player, which I used a lot to listen to classic music from the 50s and 60s, along with the wonderful songs of John Denver.
The final building on our property is an outside bathroom
and attached shop. There was also a large cement patio that we eventually
replaced with an even larger redwood deck. And down the small hill from the
main cabin is the dock. From the dock, there is an unobstructed view of almost
the entire lake, with the exception of a small cove just around the corner to
The mountain lake.
The lake itself is the perfect size, at least I have always
thought so. It is a little more than half a mile wide, and 1.5 miles long,
stretching north and south in a valley filled with pine trees and surrounded by
mountains. The size is great for both water-skiing in the afternoons and
fishing in the mornings and evenings.
For a mountain lake, the water is surprisingly warm. Or I should say not cold, but that is subjective. It also depends on the time of year. In early June, you can get in the lake and while the initial shock of cold is intense, after a bit you can get used to the temperature. July and August are very nice as temperature of both the air and water rise, making swimming extremely enjoyable. I have been in the water as late as October before, but last year I tried that, and the pain I felt in my bones from the cold had me struggling for shore and the relative warmth of the dock as fast as possible!
The blue water of the lake is only 4-5 feet deep off the end of our dock, but it drops off pretty quickly just a couple yards out. The lake is filled with Rainbow trout and Mackinaw, so there is always good fishing. At times, the surface of the water is so calm and still, it looks like glass. A mirror, reflecting all the world around it. In the mornings if you wake up early enough, you can see the steam rising off the lake, when the temperature of the water is warmer than the air. Most times, the sky is a clear blue, but when clouds roll in, they are the largest, puffiest, most grand clouds I have ever seen in my life.
Places to explore.
There are several locations worth visiting around the lake. The area has many naturally occurring hot springs, where barricades have been put up to collect the water into small bathing pools. There was at one time an actual swimming pool, not too far from our cabin, that was filled with the water coming from a nearby spring. Because of this, the water was always warm, day or night, no matter what time of year. It was in that pool that I learned to swim. My grandfather taught me. I have few memories of the pool, because the forest service closed the area and filled it in while I was still quite young. I do miss it though, and make a point to visit the location every year.
There used to be two lodges on the north shore. Actually, there are still two, it is just that one has been closed for several years. The new owners do hope to re-open this year. At either one you could get a delicious burger and a soda or beer, depending upon your age and tastes. The best thing to eat though are finger steaks. These are basically thin strips of steak, breaded and deep fried. Think chicken nuggets, except with steak. They are SO good, and they don’t have them in California or pretty much anywhere outside of Idaho. Whenever I go to the cabin, I must eat these at least twice, if not more!
There are some great hikes to find around the lake, especially up to one of the forest fire lookouts high on the mountains around the area. Nowadays those would be great for mountain biking, but in my youth, that activity just wasn’t a thing yet. There is also a horseback riding camp, where you can take a guided tour that lasts a couple of hours. And hiking in to Vulcan Hot Springs is an annual tradition that you will learn more about in the next post.
The stage is set.
So that is the world I spent my summers in. It’s changed throughout the years, with some roads being closed to traffic, other roads being paved to accommodate the increasing number of campers each year, and telephone lines being added to each cabin. We have done our own updates to our cabins, keeping them modern, while still feeling rustic. Your cell phone won’t work there, but we now have a television and internet. At first, I was resistant to many of these changes, but I see the benefits they provide, especially for those who spend months on end there and need access to quick medical response.
The next post in this series will talk about my youth, when
many of these modern conveniences didn’t exists, and when a child’s imagination
was all he needed to create a world of fantasy and fun, along with a few frogs
and snakes. Thank you again for reading and I hope you’ll stick with me for
There has been interest about my life growing up at the cabin and how it influenced my first book. Because of this, I decided to do a series of posts talking about my time at the cabin, and how I experienced it through three different phases of my life, childhood, teenage years, and adulthood. I hope you enjoy these!
My first memories of the cabin are pretty vague, as you can imagine. My family only spent the summers there, arriving at the beginning of June and staying until late August. It is the major events that stick out to me, but there are several other elements that are more feelings than specific things. Like the memory of comfort in general, rather than remembering the specific thing that gave me comfort. But let’s start from the beginning.
Before I even begin talking about how it was to spend time at the cabin each year, I wanted to talk about the actual drive to the cabin itself. The road trip. This is probably the most boring element of the story, but it was such a large part of each vacation that it is ingrained in my memories as much as any other piece of cabin life. So off we go!
The preparations for vacation began.
As the school year wrapped up, not only for me and my siblings, but also for my parents who were both high school teachers, anticipation would start to grow for the upcoming trip. I knew I would be saying goodbye to my friends, which was always disappointing. My best friend would come running over from his house a few block away to wish me a good summer and let me know he’ll miss me. I find it odd that I don’t have strong memories of those goodbyes. I can only guess that the excitement for the joy that awaited me in the woods outweighed it, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the lake and the lazy days of summer.
Packing the suitcases and then loading the car was always a
huge process. After all, we were preparing to spend almost three months away
from home. My family had one of those classic Ford Country Squire station
wagons. You know, the kind with the fake wood paneling on the sides. For a
family with two, three, and eventually four children, three months of luggage
and supplies, and a dog, the space was needed.
My father would be the one to do the actual loading of the car, placing each item in the wagon in a pre-planned way, like fitting puzzle pieces into their proper slots. He always left plenty of space for the kids to move around, which was appreciated. My siblings and I would haul out each bag from the house, depositing them on the sidewalk next to the car and running back inside for the next ones. About an hour before leaving, the dog would get half of a tranquilizer pill that my father had gotten from the vet. By the time the trip started, she would be calm and eventually sleep through a good chunk of it. Finally, we all climbed into the car, riding dangerously low on its shock absorbers, and set out on the first stage of our summer vacation.
The first hours passing by.
The drive was from California to Idaho and the trip was twelve hours long, so my parents prepared for the kids to be bored and annoying. I remember we always had a grocery bag in the front seat of the car, filled with snacks and drinks. Mom would dole out apples, crackers and cheese in a can, and Oreos if we were good. The drinks, of course, led to bathroom breaks, and not always where there was a rest stop.
Out on a lonely stretch of highway through Nevada, after much complaining, my father would pull the station wagon over onto the shoulder. My brother and I would pile out of the car and run off into the scrub brush, dodging past old tumbleweeds, looking for the most secluded spot in that vast, open land. To hurry us up, the words of my mother would follow us out the window. “Watch out for the ‘bottom biting bush bouncers!’” At five or six-years-old, that was scary enough during the day. But if circumstances had led to my family getting a later start in the day on the road trip, and if now it was nighttime, with only the shining stars and the ambient glow from the headlights providing any light? At those times, there was a true fear of getting your bottom bit, and we did our business faster than you could blink!
Once we had settled into the drive, my mom would pull out a
book and begin to read to the family. The works of J.R.R. Tolkien, were a
common go-to. The stories of the hobbits and their journeys would always be
thrilling, and we would listen with rapt attention. The cities of California
flowed past and before you knew it, we would be making our first of several gas
stops in Reno, Nevada.
Landmarks on the trip were always special occasions, and we would usually stop and get out of the car to stretch our legs. The salt flats just outside of Reno and the sand dunes shortly after Winnemucca. And my favorite, Breadloaf Rock on the hills just before entering Horseshoe Bend in Idaho. It was a giant rock in the shape of a loaf of bread, even featuring a chunk on the end that looked like someone had used a massive knife to cut a slice and leave it laying there. These all reside vividly in my memories.
Staring out the windows and watching the empty spaces between pass by had a lulling effect. As the afternoon dwindled into evening, sleepiness would settle in. Now, this was before the time of required safety belt use, so I would climb over the back seat into what we called “the way back”. I’m still not sure if that was the official name of that space behind the backseats of a station wagon. But I know that it was the best place to sleep. My father had this worn, brown leather suitcase, and the surface was incredibly soft. I would curl up on top of that case, feeling the vibrations of the car and listening to the hum of the tires on asphalt. Years later, the band REM released the excellent album Green. There is a passage from the song You Are the Everything on that album that perfectly describes those moments.
“Here’s a scene
You’re in the backseat laying down, the windows wrap around (say, say, the
To sound of the travel and the engine (say, say, the light)
All you hear is time stand still in travel
And feel such peace and absolute
The stillness still that doesn’t end
But slowly drifts into sleep
The stars are the greatest thing you’ve ever seen
And they’re there for you
For you alone, you are the everything”
Depending on when we left our house, my parents would either
drive straight through, and I would get to sleep through the night, only
awaking when we arrived in Boise, Idaho with just a couple hours left before
reaching the cabin. Or they would choose to stop at the halfway point of the
journey, Winnemucca, Nevada.
Winnemucca is an interesting city, and even to this day I get a great feeling rolling into town. They are famous for their rodeo, and The Griddle is a great place for breakfast! Back then, Scott Shady Court hotel was our destination. Tucked a couple block off the main street, the rooms were small, clean, and cheap, and the manager would pin the room keys to the small corkboard hanging just outside the office for those guests arriving after midnight.
I clearly remember the smell of cleaners and stale air from the lingering smoke smell of previous guests. And the beds with the coin-activated vibrators. As an adult, I can’t imagine what purpose that served, but as a child I found it endlessly entertaining. The bed covers and sheets were rough and stiff, but I didn’t care. After stopping there for so many summers, the place was familiar. There was a small grassy play area with those rocking horses with large springy bases that wobbled. They even had an indoor pool, but I don’t think we ever used it. The color of the water was never quite right.
We are almost there!
The miles passed, as did the landmarks and the cities, some
as big as Sacramento and Reno, some as small as Jordan Valley and Rome, Oregon,
which the sign said had a population of 173, but I’d guess it was closer to 99.
When we finally hit Cascade, the last gas stop before the cabin, and grocery
store shopping for perishables like milk and eggs, we all knew the long journey
was almost over.
Making that turn just outside the city, we would finally leave the highway and ascend into the mountains. This last stretch was only 26 miles or so, but the road was winding, so my father drove more slowly. The car windows would get rolled down as we entered the forest proper, and the scent of fresh pine would drift into the car, clean and glorious. Even the dog would perk up, sensing the anticipation flowing from all of us.
Finally pulling up to the cabin, my grandparents who had arrived a few weeks before us would step out onto the front patio to greet us. Car doors would get flung open, the family quickly abandoning the car that had kept us prisoner for the past 12 hours. After a quick hug for my grandparents, I would fly down the hill, following the short trail to the dock and the lake below, my mom’s voice calling after me, “Don’t go in the water!” After reaching the bottom of the hill, I would step out onto that dock, take a deep breath and look in all directions across the calm surface of the lake, my mind going wild with imaginings of what adventures I could get up to this year.
Summer had officially begun.
Thank you for reading this introduction to my summers at the
lake. I hope you enjoyed it, and if you have ever been on road trips of your
own, I hope you could relate. Stay tuned for the next blog post, in which I
will talk about my childhood years and the adventures and accidents of being a
free-range child in the forest.
Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions. They
are all welcomed.
How many of you remember your first visit to a bookstore?
When I was very young, one of my favorite things in the world was to have my parents read to me. I remember vividly, laying in my parent’s bed, head nestled in the crook of my mother’s arm as she read to me the stories of Rudyard Kipling and Thornton W. Burgess. Even when I could read some simpler books by myself, I preferred the deeper stories, such as The Wind in the Willows, The Phantom Tollbooth, and A Wrinkle in Time. I still have such a strong image of It on the dais and the weird heartbeat sensation Meg felt in that room while trying to rescue Charles Wallace. Because of this, my lifelong passion for reading was born.
As I grew older, I discovered the joys of bookstores. I had my own bicycle, one of those kid-sized ones with a “banana seat” and reflectors in the wheel spokes. I would ride that thing to the small neighborhood bookstore, making sure to lock it up in the bike rack outside with the combination padlock because I never knew how long I would be spending inside. At that time the store wasn’t called “indie”. It was just “the bookstore”. And I loved it. The stacks were tall and narrow, like exploring some kind of cave, and it had that book smell. If you’re a reader, you know what I’m talking about. The owner was always kind, and knew that while I might spend a lot of time browsing, I would eventually use my allowance to buy a novel that captured my attention with its beautiful cover art. There was something about finding just the right book that would “click” with what I wanted, that felt magical.
The bookstore gets bigger!
When I was a teenager, larger bookstores began popping up. Waldenbooks was the biggest in my town. In my eyes, it was a wonderland. And best of all, you had to walk through the bookstore to get into the mall. I had graduated to a 10-speed bike by then and could travel farther throughout the city, which I did, especially on weekends! When my friends wanted to go hang out at the shopping center, grabbing an Orange Julius and wandering around aimlessly, just happy to be spending time away from our houses, I would always spend the most time in the bookstore. My impatient friends would yell and complain and eventually wander off, leaving me to look at the new releases, followed by the fantasy, horror, and sci-fi sections, which were my favorite genres.
Waldenbooks eventually disappeared and Barnes & Noble took its place. I still continued to spend time there, now an adult and enjoying coffee while searching through two stories of goodness. Books that I never knew existed, I could find there. I discovered new authors that I had never heard of, and if I liked the first book by them, I would go on to consume everything they had written. It is a wonderful thing to discover a new book series after the entire series has already been written! I didn’t have to worry about friends bugging me to leave, I could spend the whole afternoon there. It was marvelous.
A beast awakens.
With the rise of the internet, a new player entered the booksellers’ market. Nobody ever anticipated the impact it would have, but Amazon became a powerhouse. Ease of shopping and huge discounts were catalysts that not only put many bookstores out of business, but several other types of retail stores that could not compete. I confess that I occasionally use them myself, and in many ways they gave a voice to a very large group of independent authors who would otherwise not be heard, so I have to give them credit for that. But I do miss the smell of those good old bookstores.
Barnes & Noble stores are still around. I have also seen a resurgence in small boutique bookstores, which makes me incredibly happy. As an author, I love to see my book available online at sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but I would love even more to see a physical copy sitting there on the shelf in the YA section of my local stores. I believe my artist has done a wonderful job of capturing the feel of my story, and I would hope that a young, passionate reader wandering the rows of their local store would “click” with the cover art, the same way I did, all those years ago. Pulling the book from the shelf, they would flip through the pages, seeing the artwork inside. Reading a paragraph or two, their imaginations would be captured and they would go home with a treasure to be savored.
The priceless gift of reading.
Inspire your children to read. Take them to bookstores, big and small. Allow them time to explore and discover. Give them the gift of reading. And though it is easy to purchase through Amazon, try to shop local or from an author’s own website. If you don’t see a book on the shelf, ask for it. The support this gives to authors is so much greater than the royalties received from a mega site like Amazon. It allows us to continue to write the stories you and your children will love.
As always, I appreciate the time you took to read this. Any comments or questions you have are welcomed.
It has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life to be able to write this story, and to assemble a wonderful team that was able to bring all the elements together so that we could share it with all of you. We hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as we did creating it!
We recently received a very nice review from Kirkus Reviews, who is well-respected for their tough and honest reviews where they said, “Alicia does come across as an intelligent, science-minded heroine for the modern era, and the story has a fresh ecological focus.” – Kirkus Reviews. One very good point that was raised in the review had to do with some of the environmental themes in the book and how I handled them, as a writer. And so, I would like to talk about an element of the story and how it came to be. I am referring to the character, Gran’Tree.
Family, friends, and the importance of trees!
You probably recognized themes of family, friendship, and compassion throughout the story you just read. The characters accepted one another, some reluctantly at first, despite their vast differences and assumed biases. They grew to become better as individuals and as a team. But in the story there were also themes of conservation. Mankind’s excessive plundering of the land is what led to the separation of the realms. Nature has always been a very important element in my life, as it is in Alicia’s. Why then, you might ask, would I make a tree—one of the most important things in nature—the villain?
Trees bring great benefits to our world. They produce oxygen, clean pollutants from the air, and protect us from sun, rain, and even wind. Their strong roots hold the soil in place to reduce land erosion. And just like Gran’Tree, many store tremendous amounts of rainfall, which helps prevent flooding. But what happens when someone, or something, gains too much power?
Without spoiling anything, there will be further adventures for Alicia in the Wild Side. You will learn more about the Ancient Ones and how the realms became separated. One of the things you will learn is the origin of Gran’Tree. He is in a place he does not belong, with powers that he should not have. And in 1887 a very wise man, Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
A villain is born.
I do not want to talk about politics while discussing a book for young readers, but I must admit that I was influenced by the current political climate in 2018. When one individual gains too much power, and lacks the wisdom regarding how best to use that power, it can throw off the balance of things, just as Gran’Tree’s great power threw off the balance of nature in the Wild Side.
Gran’Tree is just as much a victim in his world as is anyone else, which you will learn. He is also unfortunately, a victim of my own storytelling. You see, Gran’Tree’s character was created in stages during the process of writing this book. The first stage was the decision to have the lake absent in the Wild Side. I wanted Alicia, and the reader, to clearly understand that she was no longer in her world. But why was the lake gone? The answer to that question was stage two, the water was disappearing from that realm. And so The Drying was created! This led to the third, and final, stage of Gran’Tree’s creation. I needed a character that could be taking all that water.
As I mentioned, trees naturally store great quantities of water. And one of my favorite majestic trees in the forest is the yellow pine. As a child, I would pick off small pieces of their puzzle-shaped bark, and then try to place them back in the same spot that I removed them from. One summer when I was young, I had a small tree house between two of the trees that had grown close together. Now, almost forty years later, the remains of that tree house can still be seen. To me, those trees were always big and strong, and so different looking from the rest of the firs and pines in the woods. And from those memories, Gran’Tree was born.
Thank you to all, including the trees!
So, dear readers, please understand the value of trees in our world. Not only do they bring great beauty, but they are also home to many woodland creatures, provide much needed shade, and most of all they have tremendous benefits for the environment. We all need to recognize that the natural resources we have are limited, and must be saved and shared to maintain a balance in our land.
Thank you again for reading. This book would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of the team at Z Girls Press and Calling Card Books who were my publishers, editors, and designers. I also want to thank my artist Gloria Miller Allen who spent many a waking hour on the beautiful illustrations. Finally, a big thank you goes to the early readers whose input was very important in the creative process and helped me shape the final story.
I can’t wait to share with you the further adventures of our strong and intelligent heroine, Alicia.
Thank you for visiting. I have a lot to talk about regarding the creation of the book, The Passage at Moose Beach. The writing, the art, the editing. As my first book, this was all new to me. The amount of work that goes into the process AFTER you write the story surprised me, but it was always fun. I’ll get to those stories, but to start with, I’d like to talk about, recognize, and acknowledge some of the true heroes in this world—firefighters. Why am I honoring firefighters in a book blog? Because, they deserve it and I am deeply indebted to them for saving my family’s cabin in the woods, the inspiration for this story.
A common question is, “Who is your hero?” Since the first time I was asked that question in my 20’s, I’ve answered that question with, “My father,” and it was true. My father was a great man. He was a high school teacher for many years before developing Lymphoma, cancer that spreads throughout your body, while I was still a teenager. The doctors gave him a few years to live, but he fought the disease for thirteen years before it took him, and he continued to teach through it all. He was dedicated to his family and his students and was my hero because of that, and I wanted to live the rest of my life in a manner that would make him proud.
Recently, I was asked that question again, “Who is your hero?” Once again my response was going to be, “My father.” But then I really started to think about it. My father was a great man in my eyes, and I miss him every single day. I think about all the things I would love to share with him today. He never saw Jurassic Park with dinosaurs that were right there on the movie screen! But he did read the book. And MP3 players—“Hey dad, I can fit my entire library of music, thousands of songs, right here on this little device the size of a cassette.” Forget about cell phones, DVDs, and electric vehicles! My dad was a tech geek, and I inherited that from him. I think we had the first VCR, a Betamax, on our block. He would be in awe of this seemingly alien technology we have, almost twenty-five years after his passing. I love him and miss him dearly. But would I call him “my hero”? read more…
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