methow grist 2011-2014 archive


The Cabin - Part 3

This is not being written in 1974 or ‘75 but that’s about when I moved into the now completed cabin. Unfurnished, of course, when completed except for the cast iron cookstove. I needed a bed, having camped out in a tent the preceding years.

What is known as Goat Creek Road was in those days, a gravel drive to Mazama, and on the way was the Mazama dump, located just about where the suspension bridge parking lot is today as I remember it. Living in Everett, a lot of junk had been collected in our overstuffed garage and some had to be elsewhere. Like here. There was a family quip, “We can use it in Winthrop,” as we referred to the property.

But there was no bed among the piles of stuff. I did find an army cot and tried that out but found it was uncomfortable at best. One day I drove over with the pickup full of useless stuff and headed for the dump to deposit it. And there I discovered a metal bed frame with spring. It was about eight inches tall. I traded all of my junk for the bed frame, and elsewhere in the dump was a real treasure: The round plastic azimuth map from the lookout on First Butte. No idea why it was dumped, but it was a wonderful object to hang on the cabin wall.

I had chinked the logs with a variety of materials, primarily the insulation and seat stuffing from our dead 1964 Pontiac Grand Prix. This left gaps here and there but was far less messy than the caulking in a pressurized can and did not turn my hand into a catchers mitt.

The cabin had one door, facing west across the adjacent pond. Still the view offered is of Grizzly Mountain, Last Chance and places beyond. The door which I built with my usual unerring craftsmanship did not fit tightly, and as I was gazing at nature one evening, a critter dashed into the cabin through a gap in the closed door.

Intrigued, I opened it and went inside. The little animal, a squirrel I decided, ran across the south wall on one of the logs and parked in the corner near the cookstove. Have you ever spoken to a squirrel? It comes naturally when you have been alone a while, and I spoke cooingly to it and made squeaky noises. It gave me its full attention and sensing that I meant it no harm began scrutinizing its environment. Of course it had to have a name, so I chose Buddy. But a visitor from down the road came by one day and buddy was chewing on a pinecone on the porch. I introduced the two and the guy said something like “Can’t you tell a pack rat from a squirrel?”
I replied that I did not, other than that they stole shiny objects. “Can’t you smell it.” I said that I did detect a strange odor but attributed it to the logs.

He shook his head, we spoke a while longer and he left. I told the creature that his name was now Peter Packrat, and he was welcome, smell at all.

I invited my friend Al from Everett to come and spend a weekend. The first night I offered him the Mazama dump bed, eight inches off the floor, and an air mattress. He asked if there were mice and I told him I was unaware of any - only a squirrel, now virtually tame. I slept on the army cot. (I am a most considerate host, you see) and we went to bed.

I later learned it was around three in the morning when Al erupted from his comfy bed and shouted, “Spiwak, something just ran across me,” and turned on his flashlight. There was Peter on a log above him. Al shouted, “Jesus Christ Bob, that’s no squirrel, it’s a f***ing RAT! He dragged his bed outside grumbling and cussing as he departed my considerate company.

Well, now I knew what a packrat was. Peter was squirrel colored, had a nice bushy tail, and he was no bother. I could feed him bread crusts when I was there, and he always awaited snacks from his perch on the stove.

In the meantime I had built an outhouse about a hundred yards away in the woods. I went out one day and when I put the lid down, there was this little gray face that popped up from behind it. I now knew it was a packrat of a different color. I named it Petunia. I suppose because my visits were infrequent she never tamed: I saw her maybe three times that summer, and not again.

My sister-in-law, an Air Force officer, was stationed in what was then called Siam. When she was being transferred stateside she asked me what I would like from that country. She said sapphire jewelry was cheap and ultimately she brought me a large ring, all gold and with a big black star sapphire. It was small on me, so I had a jeweler cut a slot in it and widen it. I took it off at night or when working. You can guess the rest. I am still looking for that ring, and know that Peter or his ilk had stolen it from alongside my bed.

As for Peter, I shamefacedly and sadly admit that I had to put him to sleep. I walked into the cabin one morning, and had left a loaf of bread on the stove. I was alerted to his presence when he emerged from the loaf.



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