A Cabin Sanctuary
By: Brad Cole

It was becoming late in the evening and I had just laid down a novel that I was reading and began lowering the flame in a small gas lantern when a sudden, hard gust of wind pounced on my old log cabin, as though telling me that it was about to rip off the roof. A rainstorm had been howling outdoors for most of the day, tossing waves of water down from the sky; while sitting indoors I was worried of a large tree limb falling and crushing the cabin roof or breaking a window.

Emotionally fried from my first nine months of teaching in Emmonak, in rural Alaska, I decided to return to my old cabin for a much needed rest. Being near the Olympic National Park, in the state of Washington, there were steep mountains and lush forests for hiking and I enjoyed swimming in the cold swift waters of the Sol Duc River. I found the quiet solitude of nature to be a healthy experience, one that can invigorate a soul exhausted by the busy and burning world.

A quick scampering sound came from a darkened corner and I looked but did not see the mouse that I knew was there. But in the same corner, the aged portrait of my father as a young man, wearing his World War II Army uniform, now stood crooked on a small shelf. This summer I was only a visitor to the cabin, while it was the mice that lived there, I thought.

Needing to stand up and stretch, I decided to grab a flashlight and gather more wood for the stove to help take the cold edge off the growing night air. I stepped outside to a wide porch that was used for chopping and storing firewood and I stood there momentarily to watch the surrounding fir trees dance under the brutal slaps of wind and rain. My weak light stretched out feebly only a few yards into the belly of the grizzly storm. I thought of listening carefully to the thrashing jaws of the wind and the creaking moans of the trees; that way I could better know the full force of the evening ís tempest; but I decided that gathering firewood would be more important.

I had just turned around and was about to grab an armful of wood from the back of the porch when I heard an owl calling out. There were a few short bursts of whoot-hooí and then the only sound was the wind and rain tearing through trees. Turning again I walked back to the front of the porch and looked out into the night, but only the storm tossed shapes of the forest could be seen.

An unexpected feeling of intense mystery, or perhaps awe, struck me. I began to feel that the forest was a place where an ancient past still had a living presence; that it was like a sanctuary for bold but needful spirits. Feeling the rain falling against my face and still looking outwardly, I began to think that I was peering into the blurry waters of a fast moving mountain stream, searching for any signs of color or life. It was so dark and mysterious that I wondered if I could feel the presence of ancestral spirits standing silently among the tall trees; spirits that were like the dry, rustling leaves, that fall and disappear into the thick shadows of forest. Perhaps they were watching and waiting to help us through the darkness of our lives. Perhaps the richness they experience in nature is the closest they can come to our thin and transparent world, since they are not ready to leave their own twilight lands. Like the owl, perhaps I came to the forest seeking their quiet wisdom.

But as abruptly as it came to me the feeling of mystery left and only the emptiness of the wind and rain remained. I stepped back into the dimly light cabin and decided to go to bed. Feeling tired from a long day of stormy weather I turned off the gas lantern and lit a candle that I carried into the bedroom. The small crisp flame threw out sharp flickering shadows on the log walls as I entered and sat down on the bed. I could still hear the pounding rain falling tirelessly on the thin roof above me and I thought about the dark forest that surrounded the tiny cabin. Leaning forward over my knees I said a quiet prayer. Then I blew out the candle and fell into a deep sleep and dreamed about strange shadows stepping silently beneath the bold but wind fallen leaves of the forest.