March 16, 2018

the lodge

Our friend Maggie in Dublin is a scary Druid witch.  She knows things without being able to know them.  When we bought our mountain cabin last summer, we referred to it as The Bothy, or just The Cabin, but she continued to call it The Lodge, based on her concept of what it would become to us.  It wasn't until we were nearly moved in and unpacked that we noticed the sign above the door, left by the previous owners, that read "The Lodge".

Our friend Mo is also a scary Druid witch.  She knows things.  What are the odds of knowing two?

Finding this cabin was the culmination of an actual odyssey, a journey of a decade that began when P.J. and I first bought our house.  The plan all along was to find a little something in the mountains, not too far away, that would be an escape and a place for P.J. to work from time to time, recharging and finding balance through beauty and solitude.  I have longed for her to have this almost as intensely as she has despaired of ever finding it.  And I have learned along the way that there is much I find and draw from mountains, too.

We worked hard.

Our first season of searching involved shedding, at least on my part, the naive belief that real estate agents list things honestly.  We viewed photos of an adorable little cottage that turned out to have a busy highway less than fifty feet from the edge of its yard.  The photography was excellent in terms of its deceptive angles.  The seller's agent stood us up.


The next weekend, after driving for an hour through an ill-mapped forest through and over muddy ruts that had somehow earned the right to have a street name, we used the heavy-gauge wire railing to pull ourselves up and along cut-earth steps that were far too steep to hike.  The unfinished cabin sat at the top of the hill.  This was the only way to access it.  Reaching the top felt like the Cliffhanger game on The Price Is Right.  But reach it we did, and found that the shell of the place wasn't even completed and it had become infested with wasps' nests.  A lot of wasps' nests.  The hasty descent was even more fun than the climb up had been.


And the next weekend ... the mobile home that was reached by driving through the property of a hostile neighbor with large, hungry, unrestrained dogs.


Two weekends later, a harrowing zig-zag drive up a mountainside, no railing on the open side of the road, to visit a wee cabin with a hollowed-out dirt "basement" that makes me wonder if, here ten years later, it hasn't fallen off and gone tumbling down.  "Precarious as fuck" was one phrase that came to mind, and "I'm not setting foot inside there because it looks like something out of a cartoon where physics are very different" was another.

Not no, but hell no.

Chester guarding our first cabin
We found the place we had been looking for:  A 1975 R.V. with a built-on porch and bathroom (the one where I took the Polar Bear Club shower), to which we added a deck.  There was a single shed-type structure that served as an extra bedroom storage.  This sat on a half-acre situated so that no one could see you and no houses were visible, with good mid-range views.  We are not and were not snobs.  It was a place to be, and peaceful, so we made it ours and set about reading articles about the efficient use of twenty-eight linear feet of space.  Yes.

This was all well and good until we attempted to gain Internet access, which is when we learned that the phone line running to the property was old and incapable of carrying DSL service.  Satellite was not dependable.  The map of Verizon's broadband coverage of the entirety of North Carolina was solid blue, save for a tiny white hole in the mountains that, I shit you not, contained our cabin.  That's even weirder than knowing two Druid witches with magical psychic abilities.  It was then relegated to a sometimes-on-a-weekend place, never enough time, and it seemed we had to leave as soon as we arrived.  The plumbing issues started piling up.  Lightning struck and knocked out the well pump.  Judging from how long it took to finish decaying and move on, I think a large raccoon died behind the refrigerator, which could not be pulled out because of the tiny kitchen wall in the way.  The insects had the upper hand.  We gave up and sold the place, and took a loss.  Sometimes, moving on holds its own value.

Despair moved in.

We began searching again, mainly through MLS listings, and years passed without anything suitable appearing.  We changed tactics and decided to look at land, and found a beautiful lot two hours away from home, on the top of a ridge from which we could see, in the distance, the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We put down earnest money and sketched out plans for building, until we were told by our attorney that there was no actual legally viable right-of-way through the neighborhood below to the property, and that ingress and egress would depend on the goodwill of those residents.  Future selling would thus be a major hassle, and being a gay couple, goodwill was something we could depend on like a rock.  Made of limestone.


Months later, after looking at a cabin up such a steep hill that our vehicle couldn't traverse it, we found another lot near the first, one that was perfect for a tiny house and screened porch.  The view was kind of spectacular and privacy was ensured.  There was DSL service.  We bought it.  Then we found out that the county it was in had extremely strict building code and zoning regulations and we couldn't build a tiny house, and we were stuck.  We attempted to move forward with an elaborate plan to put a twelve-foot cleverly designed shed up there and secretly live in it, but that, too, fell through.  We bought a motor home and renovated it well enough for it to be featured on some home-and-garden show.  That took over a year.  Then the motor died and the steering went and we had to have it towed away.

We decided to do things right, beginning with having a well drilled, and then the well truck couldn't get up the driveway and we were going to have to hire some kind of big yellow expensive construction equipment to push it, and if they didn't hit water the first try, the property would have become worthless.  We sold it.

The despair was getting a firm grip, with sharp nails.

Stubbornness has its good side.  We took a breather and then started searching, yet again, this time a little closer to home.  A promising quaint red cabin listed on Zillow led to the bumpiest, muddiest tour of Confederate flags and packs of bare-teethed canines we'd experienced yet in our serial string of adventures.  We never even found it.


A double-wide mobile home on a paved road had nearby dwellings but also a great view and a good price, for sale by owner.  Our criteria were getting pared down to little more than four walls and a roof at that point, and P.J. went to have a drive-by look at it.  No one seemed to be home, but she knocked on the door.  No one answered.  And then, legend has it, the door opened by itself and invited her inside.  She checked things out, briefly, but long enough to take in that the ceilings were low and it was ill-lit and smelled of very old carpet.  The house next door was much closer than the photos had made it seem.  The expedition was fruitful.  It told her what she needed to know.  She shut the self-opening door behind her.


A second cabin in a development with a hyperthyroid homeowners' association looked nice, but the floors didn't come quite up to the thresholds of the doors and the layout was such that at any given time, one of us would have been in the process of falling down some steep wooden stairs into the basement.  The realtor kept calling it "rustic" to explain away the fact that the current owner had mostly built it himself and its compliance with code was marginal.  We liked it, but ....


This is the point in any odyssey when the main characters decide that fate is against them and they were never meant to reach their golden destination.  They undertake introspection and wax philosophical, stoic mixed with bitter.  In short, we were never going to have a cabin.

Then some unbearably sad things happened, and we were able to get a cabin.  A real one, but a sore non-monetary price paid, unwillingly.  We would feel guilty, but after our journey, well ... we just don't.  You won't find many who hold greater appreciation for what they have than we hold.  There are photos and mementos throughout The Lodge of those who made it possible.  They dwell there with us in welcome memory and love.

Our Lodge is a smallish, stately, cedar-sided vaulted-ceiling cabin with a deck and a loft and a finished basement, fiber-optic Internet, paved roads and driveway, energy efficiency, and neighbors who are down-to-earth and accepting.  It smells of fresh wood.  There are sunrises through large windows over a distant mountain ridge.  The cold mountain well water refreshes.  To walk through the door is to know peace.  Ten years coming.  Then Athena appeared.

Yes.  Very, very yes.

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