Michael’s Cabin Books Blog
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Losing A Parent
I lost my mother two months ago. She was 83. At that age, she’d had a long life, filled with both good times and sad times, but heavily weighted toward the positive side. At least, that’s what I believe. In the process of cleaning up after the ones that have left, I believe we unearth new truths. We also re-evaluate what was important both to them, and to ourselves.
In my previous post, The Long Road to Book Three, I mentioned a family member had suffered a stroke. That was my mom. It made me face my own mortality. More importantly, it made me consider everything I needed to say to my mom. Conversations that needed to be had, and even though it was difficult, preparations that needed to be made. Everything that was put in place over the past year helped significantly with this transition. But even with these steps in place losing a parent will never be easy. But let me back up a bit.
A Life Well Lived
My mother was born at the end of the Great Depression. She was an only child, and her parents instilled in her strength and a desire for knowledge that she carried throughout her life. She was a teacher by profession, and spent her life honing her skills, getting a Masters degree and eventually a PhD. And my mom was part of the teacher’s union and fought for teacher’s rights and fair wages, leading one of the most successful strikes in our city’s history.
As a parent, she was kind and loving, adopting a mostly hands-off approach that allowed us children to live our lives. At the same time, she was there for anything we needed. Mostly though, she let us figure things out on our own, passing along those values of strength and truth-seeking to her kids.
My mom traveled when she could, seeing the pyramids of Egypt and Pavarotti in concert in Italy. And she spent her summers in her favorite place in the world, our cabin in Idaho, a beautiful place that inspired my writing. And despite her occasional scalding remarks, she loved unconditionally.
My father passed from cancer at a young age (he was 52), and my mother never re-married. He was her one true love. Sadly, this also led to depression in her life that she was never able to shake. It changed her in ways that were frustrating for us children. In hindsight, I believe that in her own way, she was trying to prevent any further pain for the family.
1993 – 2022 A.D. (After Dad)
My parents mostly acted as a single operating unit. They shared responsibilities, from cleaning and cooking, to bringing in finances and raising the children. And there were four of us kids, separated in age from youngest to oldest by 18 years. So when that operating unit got cut in half, things were bound to break.
I think it must be harder to lose a spouse than a parent. A person who is your other half. Who knows you in a way no one else does. It was impossible for any of us children to understand that then. But it’s something I think about now, when I consider my mom before and after my father’s passing.
She was a compassionate person, only wanting people to be happy. And so, she started hiding things. Keeping secrets that she felt might cause the rest of the family frustration or pain. Whether it was health, personal, and especially financial, she didn’t want us worrying about her. I understand now she tried her best, always presenting a happy face. Unfortunately, it often led to conflict and anger amongst the children, as we were kept in the dark about important things.
As we all grew up and moved away, I remained closest, geographically, to my mom. This meant it fell on me to help out, from simple things like going over to change a light bulb, to bigger things like helping her go buy a car. I lived a couple hours away, so it was inconvenient, but not impossible. Yet I began to feel some resentment toward my siblings for leaving me with this responsibility. I understand now, that was completely unfair and I’ve let that resentment go, fully recognizing the contributions they made in other ways. People need to be able to live their lives.
Preparing for the Best and the Worst
After my mom’s stroke, she needed to move out of her home and into assisted living. The hope was that this would be a temporary situation as she recovered. And she was recovering well. Her speech was good, she could walk, and she was regaining control of her right hand, which had developed a mind of its own. Things were looking positive!
This was also a time to start preparing for many potential outcomes. Will she be able to live at home again? If not, do we need to sell her house? And are her financial affairs in order? The answers to these questions were not easy, and I dealt with each in its own time.
The most difficult part was cleaning her house, preparing for either her coming home, or selling it. There was just so much stuff! She wasn’t exactly a hoarder, she just saved everything. Additionally, she wanted to make sure she never ran out of anything. Printer paper? She was set for life. Paperclips? Envelopes? Scrapbooking supplies? She could have opened her own Office Depot! And why she was hanging on to tax returns from the 1970’s, I’ll never know. But she was prepared for any possible audit. Good lord!
In this process, much of her financial situation came to light. A clearer picture of her life, and how she tried to protect her children, began to form. There were issues that needed fixing, and could have been fixed, if she’d only said something.
The Conclusion of a Life
The truth is, there is no conclusion when it comes to the life and death of a loved one. It goes on for the rest of your life. Oh sure, you can wrap up the finances and distribute belonging (I don’t know which task is bigger). But the memories will always be there and they’ll surface at the strangest times.
My mom left on her own terms. She was in the hospital and made the choice to forgo any further medical care. She called me to let me know it was time, and I called my siblings. If they wanted some last words with her, now was their last chance. You would think with that kind of heads-up, you would be able to have all the necessary conversations. You would be wrong in that thinking, and there will always be more conversations I wish I’d had.
I found that I had a lot of anger toward my mom in the past several years. Why didn’t she take better care of herself? Why didn’t she do the necessary physical therapy? I bought her new shoes recently that she wanted, and I was angry that she never wore them. I was angry that she let her finances get out of control and that now I had to clean up the mess she’d left behind. Those aren’t good feelings to have, and they aren’t helpful.
I’ve let all that go now. I just doesn’t matter.
I know everything my mom did in her life was to provide better lives for her children. I can’t feel anger over that. Even in dying, she felt that in some way, she was lifting her burden from us. Of course we would welcome that burden to still have her around, but I understand and respect her decision.
When she passed, I allowed myself an all too brief moment of grief. Then I took that grief, and tucked it away, up on a shelf. “I’ll deal with you later,” I said. “I’ve got other matters to take care of right now.” And with the help of my wife, my siblings, and my friends, that’s what I did.
The grief still comes in waves, but rather than the constant crashing of ocean breakers, it’s more of an occasional swell. I have yet to take it down from that shelf and fully deal with it, but I will. Someday.
Throughout my life, my mother was my biggest champion, and she inspired the message of my third book. That love truly is more powerful than hate. I wrote that as a tribute to her.
I love you, Mom.
The Long Road to Book Three
Well, it is an absolute joy to talk with you again. I know many of you have been waiting patiently, after the cliffhanger ending of Finding the Lost. And I am here to tell you that book three, currently known as Magic in the Blood, is finally written! The first draft, at least, but it means things are progressing and I hope to have this in your hands sometime early next year.
This past year and half, have been a strange time in all of our lives. Covid-19 started out so much like other illnesses you have heard about, but always seem far away, or not so threatening. Mad Cow Disease, Ebola, Bird Flu, etc. You hear about them in the news and don’t pay much attention, except maybe to acknowledge that they exist, but they’ll never reach you. But then…BAM!! There’s Covid-19 and it’s not messing around. A danger to all, but especially to the elderly and those people in high risk health categories. It is so tragic that families lost loved ones, friends lost best friends, and pets lost their beloved masters and ended up in shelters or worse.
During this time, my work switched to working remotely. I feel beyond fortunate that I work in an industry that allows for that, as many people lost jobs over the past year and a half. I am thankful every day that other than not being able to leave my home much, I was not as impacted as many others were. In fact, my regular job got even busier, and I often found it difficult to separate work life from home life. After all, both shared the same space within my home. And with the distraction of work, my writing just got pushed aside.
Book One led to Book Two led to…
I wrote The Passage at Moose Beach in the summer of 2018. After finding a wonderful publisher to work with, we discussed the possibility of doing a sequel, and even a trilogy, which I documented in my previous post here. That first book was published in November of 2018, and by the new year, I had my first draft of Finding the Lost written, which as mentioned, ended on a cliffhanger. The polishing and editing process took some time, and FTL finally had its limited release in November of 2019, with a full book tour being planned out to coincide the full release in March of 2020. And then nature threw a monkey wrench into those plans.
With the editing of Finding the Lost in full swing, I didn’t have a lot of time to start considering what book three would be. I mean, I knew from where I left things at the end of FTL that something big was going to have to happen, I just didn’t yet know how I was going to get there. I decided to push off any thoughts of book three until after the full release of FTL, so that I could see readers’ reactions and get a better understanding of where to take the final chapter in this trilogy. And then that monkey wrench from nature hit those plans smack dab in the forehead.
Writing Without Writing
The new stress caused by both the extra work I was doing, as well as a fear of going outside or seeing any friends and family, really forced the physical writing of book three to take a backseat. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t writing. I’d gotten the prologue to the 3rd book written during the editing of FTL, so I knew what the stakes were that I was preparing Alicia to face. And I can tell you that they are deadly.
Even though I only had the prologue actually written down, I was writing the rest slowly in my head. I planned out key beats throughout the story and kind of knew how it was going to end. And in reality, the finished version didn’t change much, but there were a lot of gaps to fill in, and sometimes, the story goes in directions I hadn’t planned for, or even imagined.
I would naturally forget some ideas that I had come up with, or suddenly wake up in the middle of the night with an understanding of exactly how I was going to explain something that I hadn’t come up with a solution for yet. I’d find myself developing ideas in the shower. And one day about four months ago, I knew exactly how the story would begin. That day, I rushed to the computer and wrote chapter one, because I didn’t want to forget. But that was it. I didn’t get beyond the prologue I’d written two years ago, and now chapter one. But then, tragedy hit.
A Late Night
One day in June of this summer, a family member who lives alone couldn’t be reached. I thought maybe a phone had been left behind, or something similar. Things aren’t so worrying in the light of day. But I called back later that evening and still no answer. I reached out to local friends who quickly went to check. They went into the house and found the family member had suffered a stroke. They immediately called Emergency services. For the next several hours I gathered and shared information, as I called the hospital, one sibling, another sibling, back to the hospital, back on the phone with one sibling, back with another, on repeat. Finally, at about 2:00am, I knew the family member was being cared for the best they could.
The rest of the family and I were terrified. There is good news, however. The family member is recovering very well, especially when it comes to speech, and now it’ll just be a process of physical therapy to get them back to where they were prior to the stroke. They were also diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation, also known as A-Fib, which caused the stroke, and are now on medication for that, so chances of a stroke in the future are significantly reduced. All-in-all, we were quite lucky.
A Growing Sense of Urgency
That scare shook me. I don’t consider myself old, but I’m not young, either. And I realized, something could just hit me out of the blue, and suddenly, Alicia’s story would never be finished. No one else knew what was in my head. And I wanted to give fans the closure they deserved. And so I knew I needed to write. Now!
I wrote book one while at my cabin in Idaho. Book two, I wrote at home. But now, home was a distraction. I needed to get away from work and back to the source to give book three the best chance at becoming something special. So I packed up, got in the car, and headed to Idaho with one goal in mind. WRITE THAT BOOK!
And that’s what I did. The book you’ll be getting is not the story I would have written two years ago. It’s not the book I would have written four months ago. The basic bones are there, but the marrow, the ligaments and tendons, they are new. There are so many new real life influences here that I didn’t know would come into play, but I believe really add to the narrative.
I hope you all enjoy this final chapter in Alicia’s adventure. It is unlike the other two. Just like in our world, everything has changed. The danger is real, and it’s all around. This was a hard book to write, not just for the reasons I laid out above, but emotionally as well. I am incredibly proud of the end results, and I can’t wait for you to read it.
Take care, my friends. And hug a loved one.
Surviving During the Time of Coronavirus
This is going to be a simple blog post. I just wanted to reach out and see how everyone is coping during this most crazy and unusual time in our history.
Let me begin by saying that I hope you are all surviving this crisis right now and staying safe. I know there is a lot of conflicting information out there and I know many people are going through the hardest time in their lives, both emotionally and financially. It is hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel when every day the numbers are getting worse. My heart goes out to all those in need. I have donated what I can. I only wish I could do more.
In our household, we are staying at home, only making the occasional run to the grocery store for more supplies. I wear gloves when I go out, wash the items when I get home, and then wash my hands. I don’t fear for my own safety, but the last thing I want to do is infect someone else. I really do miss seeing my mother and being able to give her a hug during this time. But she is in her 80s, and the risk is just too high. She lives about an hour away from me, so I call every day to check in and see how she’s doing. And I have a wonderful lifelong friend who lives near her and checks in with her when he’s doing a supply run to see if there is anything she needs. I love him for that.
For distractions and to keep entertained, I am fortunate to have a backyard filled with birds and squirrels. Being able to sit out there and watch them come around looking for seeds at the feeders brings some peace and comfort to my daily routine. I have two cats as well, but they are indoor cats. During this time, I have put the finishing touches on a catio (yes, a patio for cats). It is connected to a window that we can open a crack and they are free to go in and out all day. They like watching the birds too and I’m sure they long for the freedom to be able to do more than just watch! Sorry, kitties.
I’m also a gamer, so spending time with the latest PS4 game gives me a bit of fantastical escape from reality, at least for a moment. Lately I’ve been playing a VR game called Paper Beast, which is amazing and beautiful. And Nioh 2 completely satisfies that itch for a Dark Souls type of game. I am considering getting Animal Crossing for the Switch, but haven’t been convinced yet. And of course I am an avid reader. At night, I consume books like a hungry man at the Sizzler salad bar! I recently read Recursion from Blake Crouch and it blew me away. Of course for the younger reader in your life, the second book in the Moose Beach trilogy, Finding the Lost, is available now at a launch discount! Reading to your children is a great way to bond during this crisis, and inspires creative minds to think.
I had considered going on a road trip to Alicia’s cabin. It is snowed in right now and only accessible by snowmobile or by walking across the frozen lake. But the nearby lodge has been staying open through the winter. I thought that might be a good refuge, as the virus had not yet reached there. Sadly, they have now had to close their doors as well. I pray for the safety of the wonderful owners and all their staff. I hope to see them all this summer.
As I said, I hope all of you are doing your best to stay safe. I would love to hear from you in the comments below! How are you dealing with daily life and being stuck inside? Do you have any suggestions/tips for our readers to stay active and combat boredom? I have these resistance bands that I got from Amazon. They are good for a quick stand up and stretch routine. I find myself snacking more than usual and I know it’s not healthy for me.
Take care, my friends.
The Birth of a Sequel
It has been quite some time since my last blog post, which has more to do with the busy year I’ve had than anything else. But with the early release of book two in the Moose Beach trilogy now available (I can’t believe it!), I wanted to share with you a small insight into the creation of this sequel to The Passage at Moose Beach.
2019 began quietly. Weekdays I did my day job, and for the first couple of months, I spent the weekends finishing the rough draft of book two, which came to be known as Finding the Lost. A side note here, the initials of the book are FTL, which also stands for “faster than light” and being a science geek, I love that! I have mentioned before that I never really planned to write a first book, it just sort of happened. So to actually be working on a sequel was exciting and challenging in all new ways.
The Passage at Moose Beach is a stand-alone book. In my mind, the story is complete, and I never had any vision for a sequel. But my wonderful publishers Marta and Kate at Calling Card Books suggested that a second book could be a good idea. Unfortunately, while it might have been THEIR good idea, I didn’t actually have any ideas of my own for how I could continue Alicia’s story. I didn’t want to return to the world of Moose Beach if I couldn’t tell something new. It would have been easy to repeat the story of book one with new animal friends and a brand new adventure. But that would not have been satisfying to me as a writer and I don’t think it would have been satisfying to you as a reader.
Sequel Ideas & Corrections
After spending some time with the idea, my first thought was to have Alicia grown up with a daughter of her own and the young girl would end up in the Wild Side herself. In fact, I had already written the epilogue of book one as a glimpse into the future, with Alicia and her daughter swimming in the lake at Moose Beach. Here is a sample of the original epilogue from book one:
Alicia stood on the small beach on the other side of the lake, looking into the woods beyond. Somewhere in there, she imagined a deer, a squirrel, and a noisy jay all watching out for each other. And she remembered a giant friend who made the ultimate sacrifice to save her and the lands he called home.
Suddenly, she squealed in surprise. Cold lake water had splashed against her back! Turning, she saw her young daughter cupping both hands in the water, ready for a second throw. “Oh, you’re in trouble now, Brie”, she warned as she stalked slowly into the lake, hands raised in menacing and exaggerated claws.
Brie, just 7 years old, backed away from her mom, laughing uncontrollably. “It wasn’t me, Mom, it was a giant trout!”
“Uh, huh. And I’m just a giant bear who’s going to nibble on that trout.” Alicia lunged forward through the shallow lake water and scooped up her daughter, burrowing her face into child’s neck and making chomping sounds against her skin.
You may notice a great similarity between this original text and what ended up in the book. The beginning of book two continued with this story line, featuring an adult Alicia who would need to return to the Wild Side to rescue her daughter. I’d written the first chapter of Finding the Lost and sent it off to my publishers to see how they liked the idea. They gently, and wisely, guided me back toward the light. Alicia once again became a young girl, which also meant going back and re-writing the epilogue of book one. Fortunately, this happened before The Passage at Moose Beach went to print.
I did like the idea of playing with a new timeline, so that concept stayed for Finding the Lost, as you will see. And since I wanted the story to be different from the first, that meant Alicia would need to be a little older so that she could fend for herself without the reliance on her furry companions. Finally, I knew this story would have a darker tone than book one and I didn’t want to inflict that terror on an eleven-year-old girl.
Alicia’s lake is a magical place. Growing up there, I had the chance to explore just as much as Alicia, as you may have read in my other blog posts. And I wanted to bring all these wonderful locations from my youth to the reader. Because of that, Finding the Lost is a travelogue of sorts. I wanted readers to experience a bit of the exploration I enjoyed so much as a child. Which is also why this book includes a map, a welcomed suggestion from one of my earliest readers. I’ve been to every location in this book, and while I may not have gotten to meet the Ancients, I have seen cougars, and I’m pretty sure I caught a quick glimpse of a sprite or two.
Finishing the rough draft was only the beginning of the book writing process. The reviewing and editing were much more time-consuming. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Finding the Lost, looking for spelling and continuity errors. And most importantly, taking the feedback from my publishers and converting that into a richer and more engaging story. I also needed to go back and read sections from The Passage at Moose Beach, just to make sure the story line matched up and made sense. And I’m sure we probably didn’t catch everything. There was also a lot of conversations with my wonderful artist, Gloria, who worked hard trying to get just the right look for the cover, the characters, and took my terrible map sketch and made it into something beautiful.
During this journey, I also realized that the story I imagined was too big for just one more book. Somewhere along the way, Alicia’s adventures in the Wild Side became a trilogy. And if you think Finding the Lost is dark, just wait to see what I’ve got in store for book three. Magic, discovery, new friends, new dangers, and a huge battle to end it all.
It’s going to be epic!
The Day I Died Pt 2: And the Healing Has Begun
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.
My 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.
I 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 for The 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.
The Day I Died Pt. 1: March, 1989 (Oh What a Night)
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.
Stockton: Someplace Special
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 to him.
“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 went.
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 asked.
“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.
Cabin Life Pt 5: I’m an Adult Now
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, Dad.
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.
Now I should go call my daughter.
Cabin Life Pt 4: A Teenager Caught Between Worlds
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 different now.
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 greater.
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.
Cabin Life Pt 3: Surviving as a Free-range Child
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 could climb.
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 else.
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 year.
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.
Cabin Life Pt 2: Welcome to the Forest
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 left.
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 this telling.
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