A Place That I Used To Know

My Oregon Cabin, Autumn 2005

After I finished college, I gave away everything that wouldn’t fit in my Volkswagon and hit the road West, determined to see the Mississippi, the Grand Canyon and the Pacific. Thus began my love affair with the lost art of the Road Trip. Back then, gas prices were just starting to flirt with the two dollar mark and almost everybody who heard about my cross country road trip plans tried to talk me out of it.

When I left home I wasn’t sure where the road would lead me, if I would return or where I might end up if I didn’t. I never would have guessed the end of the summer would find me on an Oregon seed farm, toiling through a grueling harvest season and absolutely captivated by organic agriculture. I found the combination of ecology and genetics that lies at the heart of natural farming inspiring and the perfect milieu for putting my college book learning – I had been a self designed evolution major – to real use.

Me & Bowie, hoeing the rows at Gathering Together Farm

After a week of selecting seeds from the most robust plants to parent the next generation, I decided I wanted to stick around to see the seeds planted and grown, to see for myself whether selecting for color and disease resistance really produced a hardier plant in one generation. My temporary stay became a year long tutorial in plant breeding and genetics and possibly the most enjoyable and enlightening interim job I never could have planned.

My Cabin, Cold Morning brrrrrr!

I spent that year in Oregon living in an off grid cabin in the woods. The cabin’s owners had been living in Kansas for two years and a family of raccoons had moved in and made a horrendous mess. My job was to evict the animals, clean up the place and keep out the riff-raff.

Even once the raccoons were out, it was hardly luxury living; the cabin was off-grid and the only electricity came from a temperamental generator that charged four old car batteries, enough power to run one lightbulb for a few hours in the evening. It was also bone cold; the woodstove wasn’t big enough to heat the whole place and I could never keep it going overnight. It was dark, cold and lonely and I absolutely loved the place.

Oregon In Winter: Rain, Rain, Rain!

Four days a week, I walked to and from work at the farm. My free time was spent hiking in the woods and reading in a hammock strung between two massive live oaks. Every day I had deer in my yard and once, Bowie treed a mountain lion in one of the oaks shading my porch. I stayed, rent-free, for almost exactly a year.

The Front Porch. That generator looks even more uncooperative than when I lived here. The cabin is north facing on the edge of the woods so it doesn’t get enough solar gain for solar power.

One day, in the hammock, reading the Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, I had an epiphany: Pollan wasn’t a scientist. He was a writer who wrote about science! The perfect career for me! I applied to two of the top science writing programs in the country, got accepted into both, moved to Baltimore to earn my master’s degree at Johns Hopkins and have been making my living as a freelance writer ever since.

Inside, Fire Blazing. I see IKEA…

Yesterday, I took a walk down memory lane to my old cabin, which is now empty and falling into disrepair. It’s hard to see things you love come apart and when I got to the cabin and looked through the window, I found I didn’t really want to go inside, though both doors were unlocked and I would have been welcome. I peered through the windows, looking for shreds of my younger self. I spotted an IKEA lantern and smiled.

Bowie looking for his younger self; Dio looking for something to chase.

Then I walked all around the place and up and down the mile-long driveway, once my daily walk. I found I remembered all the bends in the long gravel drive and many of the storied old live oak trees I revisited looked much the same.

My Oregon Driveway. The road not taken?

If I wanted to, I could probably go back, clean up the cabin and move in. I so loved this place and it hurts to see it go unloved. But I don’t want to. My wanderlust is too strong, always pulling me forward through life. Looking through the windows of this place I saw my 23-year old self. I recognized her and she recognized me and we both smiled. I have moved on from this place but I haven’t lost what I found here. Everybody should have a place that they used to know.

My Cabin in 2012. That oak tree looks a bit bigger…

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to A Place That I Used To Know

  1. Sandra says:

    Keep following your passion, and we will keep following you. 🙂

  2. seekraz says:

    How wonderful is that?! Good for you. 🙂

  3. mountainmae says:

    I once lived in a similar cabin with no running water and a wood stove for heat and indoor cooking. Like you the time spent there is a cherished memory. I would not want to go back but I’m so glad I had that year there. Another heart-touching post.

    • Sounds like an adventure! Those places really make you live in the moment. Then, years later, you look back and think how did I do that?! Amazing what hardships you can adjust to when you’re in love with a place! 🙂

  4. gaucho8782 says:

    Great post! I hope someone moves in to care of it. What a beautiful little cabin.

    • Yes, me too. It sounds like one of the neighbors out here might buy it, just so somebody local can take care of it. The owners have been MIA for years now. No word on if they’ll rent it out or let some other young aspiring artist caretake the place.

  5. Klbexplores says:

    Wonderful post. It is amazing the life lesson we learn on our own journeys. Keep on truckin….

  6. Don West says:

    Sighs, feelings…I know what you felt. Been to that place inside myself many times when visiting the landmarks of the past. I know the feeling of not wanting to go in but seeing yourself in there. And I have always identified closely with the notion behind Tom Paxton’s song, “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” as I sat in a comfortable job and marriage, unhappy with the precariousness of it all. I wonder if you know how fearless you are in embracing who you are and going with it instead of getting in line like everyone else 🙂 So many of us seek the warmth and safety of stability. That is what we have become as a nation. It is easier. Less risky. Or so we think. And it provides a shallow happiness in the end. I’m glad that your thirty year old self has figured out what to do about that for you. It is profound at your age. It took me twenty extra years lol! It does me good to read your posts 🙂 Perhaps I’m not nuts after all, but merely foolish 😉

  7. Andrea says:

    I love your life 🙂

  8. Rachael says:

    Excellent post. Maggie will love this one. I remember we rented a cabin (way more mod-cons though!) near Moab on our trip there and it had a wooden swing seat on the porch and all M wanted to do was hang out there and be left alone.

  9. Rachael says:

    Reblogged this on Focused Moments and commented:
    I won’t reblog very often but wanted to share this lovely post from one of my favourites. Enjoy. Normal service resumes soon.

  10. Fi says:

    Oh what a lovely post – your prose is so gentle and alluring- I felt lulled.
    Everyone needs a log cabin.

  11. Joni says:

    How wonderful it must be to follow your dreams no matter what others say. Too many of us have no idea what it is like to really “live”. You do. My admiration continues to grow for you.
    Take care,

    • Thanks Joni. I’ve had a lot of people tell me I shouldn’t do the things I do, but I’ve never had anybody actually stop me. It’s all talk and I have very little interest in arguing with people. I just do what I want to do and usually prove all the naysayers wrong! Actions always speak louder than words!

  12. GOAT 山羊 says:

    Great post, thanks to Rachael for drawing your blog to my attention.

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  14. evea192 says:

    Wow, u are one lucky lady. Out there in the woods, all alone, must be great?

  15. Scott says:

    Great story of your good memories.

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