Saturday, April 04, 2020

Splendid Isolation

I have a little experience with this shelter-in-place thing. Most of the Junes, Julys and Augusts of my youth were spent doing just that in a mountain cabin above Boulder, Colorado. My family might go for days, even weeks at a time without encountering another soul in our retreat among the pines. It was all part of the ritual of going to The Cabin. We didn't have a fancy name for it. After scratching their heads about it for some time, my parents took the suggestion from an artist friend of theirs. "What do you call it?" he asked. They told him, "We call it the cabin." And the week after that he showed up with a discrete hand-painted sign that read just that "The Cabin." Part of opening up the place, whether it was for the season or just a day, was hanging that sign over the front steps.
And there it stayed, until we were ready to return to civilization. Not that we didn't make trips down to the big city for supplies and a load or two of laundry every so often. There was no electricity or running water in our oasis, but there was a gas refrigerator. If we could get the cold things up the twisty, turning road, they would stay cold. We could even make ice, if we were patient enough to let the ice cubes freeze in their trays. The gas refrigerator came with an ice maker, but it ran on electricity and would have required plumbing to make it work.
Drinking water, the kind you could turn into those ice cubes, came from "downtown," the place my father would make his commute to each weekday morning, and we could count on him for five to ten gallons every few days. Along with the newspapers and mail. That was our regular window on the outside world. That and those supply runs we made with my mom.
We would pack the laundry bag, a couple of coolers, and three boys in the car. The last thing we loaded up was the Cabin Box. A two foot long cardboard container with no lid. That was what brought our dog running. He reckoned correctly that we would be taking a trip in the car when he saw that box. A car trip for which he was expressly invited. There was always a flurry of excitement around these voyages down the hill. The boys knew that there would be a chance to help out with the various chores and push one of the carts that would be part of a train that needed to be pushed through the grocery store, out to the car, brought back to the house, then separated into the coolers and bags and the Cabin Box to make the return trip. There might even be a chance to watch some television.
All the while, our dog was content to revert to his backyard habits. This meant being fenced in, relegated to a tiny patch of lawn, compared to the meadows and forest that he enjoyed in the hills. This also meant that if there was an opening, he would respond as he would at any other time when he was a city dog: he would run away. This meant that one of the responsibilities we all took on was to keep the dog from bolting as we carried things out to the car. It took us several years to figure out that all we needed to do to take that stimulus away was to replace it with another: once he saw the Cabin Box making its way to the back end of the station wagon, there was no need to chase. He was inside, bouncing from seat to seat, anxious to get the show on the road and back up to the mountains where he had the run of acres of potential digging spots and scents of animals he could only imagine. Then we all piled in after him, coolers and groceries and maybe some ice from town. We went back up the hill to our shelter in place. The Cabin.

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