Guarded by a thick forest of lodgepole pine, our little cabin in the northwoods seemed like heaven on earth back in 1978. We'd built it ourselves and didn't have to skid the logs very far before my husband notched the ends with his chainsaw and together, we lifted them up into place.
Windows were carved out, just wherever we thought we might want one. An old but serviceable wood cookstove sat in the corner and not only kept us warm, but heated our food, as well. In the winters, when there was enough snow, I'd go out in the yard with large stewpots and fill them with the fresh manna from heaven. The pots would sit on the stove and simmer down into glorious water. If icicles formed on the eaves of the roof, we'd break those off and keep adding them to the liquid gold hissing on the back of the stove. These were times we blessedly didn't have to drive down to the creek, break the ice with a splitting maul and then scoop water out from the small hole with a cup and, with frost bitten fingers, fill bottles of the icy elixir to pack home to supply horses, goats, rabbits, chickens and, if we were lucky, we might have enough to fill the #2 washtub and take baths. I would go first, and then I'd heat up a bit more water, add it into what I'd just bathed in, and my husband would take the next bath.
Struggling to carve a home from our ten acres, we had very little money. Pete worked in town at the local chainsaw shop. I'd stay home and take care of the place. When we went grocery shopping every two weeks, I carried a list of the food I needed to buy, with the prices off to the side added up so that I wouldn't go over the total. $28.00 had to buy two weeks' worth of groceries. I had to adhere to my list with no splurges, temptations or flights of fancy.
When a chinook would blow in, the warm air would melt the clumps of snow on the pines towering above our cabin, where we would be nestled in our sleeping loft. The snow would bombard the roof and sleep would be hard to find that night.
One night in the summer, asleep in the loft with the window open to breezes and night-time sounds, I was startled awake by the scream of a mountain lion. It is true what they say, cougars do sound just like a woman screaming in terror.
We had several neighbors who were just as poor as we were. It was an old-fashioned life, where we'd walk through the woods on deer or logging trails to the neighbor's house. If someone was home, they'd make coffee and offer a slice of pie made in the oven of their stove. None of us had electricity, phones or running water. We had no TV. Life was blissfully simple.
We had CB radios and our friends had various "handles" like Cedar Rat, Wild Child, Circuit Rider.
I was 28 years old, my long, almost-black hair in braids hanging down both sides of my neck. I broke horses for folks around the county. I slaughtered the rabbits myself for our dinners. I ran a little chainsaw sometimes to cut corral poles or firewood. And I "choker-setted" for my husband.
Pulling a cable from the reel of a PTO-driven winch over my bruised shoulder, I'd drag the end out to a log Pete had just fallen and with a "peavey," I'd roll the log over onto the cable hook, hook it back onto itself, and motion for Pete to start the PTO and drag the log back to the truck. Together, we found a way through manual power to get the logs onto the truck, and then drove wickedly treacherous dirt roads to the mill where we'd sell the small load and then take the money to the grocery store. Or the gas station.
We also cut bolts of large, standing-dead cedar, split them into wedges and loaded them onto the pickup and hauled those to the cedar shingle mill. Training horses, selling horses, logs, cedar shake bolts, whatever it took to make a few bucks to survive and make the land payment. Life was good. Hard, but good...
Part 2 to follow