The letter our family dreaded finally arrived. The Parks Department of the State of Idaho terminated our lease in Ponderosa State Park on Payette Lakes. Seventy-five years ago, in 1943, our grandmother bought this cabin on the lake from the local theater owner, situated on land leased from the Idaho Department of Lands.
The cabin had no electricity, no water, no fireplace, and it stood on rocks with no foundation. My grandfather and two of my mother’s cousins added on a concrete and brick fireplace and chimney. We all used kerosene lamps until electricity wired from the dirt road brought us light. The outhouse along a forest path served other needs. Grandmother Elsie dipped her bucket into the lake on early cabin mornings and brought it up the wood ramp for our use, or the men in the family poured water from spigots at the Nazarene Camp next door and carried the heavy buckets to the cabin. They rested on the counter in the kitchen, a long handled drinking dipper hanging from a hook nearby.
We all swam in the pristine lake, always keeping an eye out for the rumored sea monster named Sharlie. The white sand beach and a few driftwood logs set the scene for sand castles, models wearing towels as hats or gowns strutting back and forth, searches for discarded snakeskins, and “meals” placed on plates and utensils carved by our grandfather, where he sat in the shade of two pine trees. My father played the monster and chased us up and down the beach, he growling and we screeching. Our family came in August. My uncle’s family joined us part of the time, but also spent other days and weeks because they lived in Boise. Six cousins and six adults with my grandparents. We all squeezed in.
The kitchen floor in the cabin sagged. The steep steps to the bedroom loft grew steeper as we aged. Each of us contributed sheets, towels and blankets, but the best were Grandmother’s quilts, especially warm and cozy on cold nights. New linoleum eventually brightened the main living area and kitchen. My mother, our family’s matriarch after my grandparents and my father passed, insisted a bathroom be added to the screened-in porch. My uncle brought water from the camp via pipe extension and the McCall sewer district added our cabin to its system.
I first visited in 1945 at two years old. My annual visits ended when I left home for college, but began again from Seattle where I lived and practiced law. My mother lasted to 96+ years, still visiting every year—her favorite place in the world. She and I spent time there every September (almost) for ten to eleven years from 2001 to 2011, a time for her to paint and I to write. My cousins often joined us to visit, to eat, to sew, and to share our love for the cabin.
Now, the Park wants our space. They will scrape our much loved cabin. My cousins work to save precious reminders of our sojourns there. Antique dealers bought the round oak table and upright chairs, the Hotpoint stove, the Kelvinator refrigerator, some of the dishes and framed pictures, and an iron bedstead. I doubt anyone wants the paintings we all made on slabs of wood to decorate the outhouse. A painting by my mother of the former log mill on the lake is saved by my sister. A cousin wants the windows and double Dutch door.
I remember the strong scent of sun on dust, of ponderosa pine sap and snow brush on the slope to the lake. I remember the quiet slip, slip of water on the beach in the morning and the boom of white capped waves in a storm. I remember the sound of rain on the tin roof, so loud it woke us up. I remember thunder and lightning and the fear that a giant tree would fall on us, but finally the steady rhythm on the roof would send me back to my dreams. I remember sleepy afternoons on the bolster at the end of the porch, the quiet brush brush of a breeze in the pine needles, the chatter of squirrels as they gathered pine cones for winter. I remember the deer, fox, and bear that appeared and poked around the cabin. I remember gathering huckleberries in early August in small silver buckets, eating as many as I plunked into the buckets. I remember the pies my mother and grandmother made from the huckleberries, and those of my husband who succeeded the women in pie-baking. I remember playing with paper dolls on the cabin floor, drawing new clothes and sharing the time with my cousins. I remember my grandfather rising early to light the fire in the cook stove and fireplace and my grandmother pasting matchbooks covers on a card table. I remember the base of the tilting ponderosa pine where my sister and I played with our dolls. I remember lying on the tilted dock on my towel, searching for streaking lights during the Perseid meteor shower. I remember holding my mother’s hand as we talked about what comes next. I remember the mergansers on the dock and the osprey chirping and diving for fish. I remember a place where I was cradled, free to pretend, to write, to think, to sink into a well-loved structure, soon to disappear and remain only in my memory.
One of my favorite genres is travel books of all kinds—nonfiction, fiction, memoirish, contemporary, historical. I love to travel, too, but we haven’t taken any long trips in a while for various reasons. With travel books, I can immerse myself in different lands and times. Here are some titles I have enjoyed, in no particular order:
Walking the Gobi, Helen Thayer
Apocalyptic Planet and Atlas of a Lost World, Craig Childs
Shadow of the Silk Road and To a Mountain in Tibet, Colin Thubron
News from Tartary, Peter Fleming
The Hour of Land, Terry Tempest Williams (national parks)
Walking Nature Home, Susan Tweit
Black Lamb & Grey Falcon, Rebecca West
Cross-Country, M. M. Justus
The Places in Between, Rory Stewart (Afghanistan)
Hiking Alone, Mary Beath
Without Reservations, Alice Steinbach
A Hunger for High Places, Susan Marsh
Sailing with Impunity, Mary Trimble
Mariposa Road, Robert Michael Pyle
MOONSCAPE, a new Nellie Burns and Moonshine Mystery, will be published in June, 2019! The publisher, Five Star Publishing, is even now working on the cover and preparing the Advanced Reading Copies (proofs). We sent some of Gerry’s photographs of Craters of the Moon to be considered. Just to get you in the mood, here are a few! The caves figure prominently in the story.
©Gerry Morrison Photography/Painting by Marie Whitesel