When I was just a bit older than my son is now, I lived in a cabin in Maine for a month. Or I was supposed to live in a cabin in Maine. My friend Nina and I drove, in early January, to her friend’s cabin in a frozen field. She was going to compose music—there was a piano. And I was going to write. It was our month off from college, something called Jan Plan. I can see the small paned windows of the low shack now, and the dry yellow grasses in the field, and sleet pouring down on hay bales stacked around the base of the house. The woodstove was small and smoky. We couldn’t get the large room to warm up. I think we lasted one or two nights, our hands frozen when I tried to write or Nina sat down to play the piano. We didn’t feel like failures when we drove back into town and picked up a jar of goat’s milk at a farm on the way. I didn’t mind the mice or the cold so much, but I wanted to write.
I’ve just finished Baron Wormser’s wonderful book, The Road Washes Out In Spring, an account of his 23 years in a cabin in Maine—enough time for his two children to grow up. The cabin was a house he and his wife Janet built not far from where I was going to college. I used to walk out from Colby on its hill in Waterville as far as I could walk in a day—about 20 miles or so, and back. I loved being able to walk on a muddy track, and then a narrow road into the country past golden bales of hay and blue winged swallows dipping in and out of barns, and empty fields surrounded with dark fir trees in the cold.
Wormser says he wanted to strip his life of gadgets and noise, and, like Thoreau, “live deliberately.”
“What brought me to the woods,” he writes, “was the prospect of living with nothing between me and the earth—none of the electronic gibber-jabber. I craved directness and quiet. What brought me to the woods was an impulse to get lost, to almost literally be off the map.”
I didn’t want a cabin in the woods, then, just to be able to walk into the wilderness and stay there. Later, I did covet all sorts of cabins, but I never had the spark to actually build one. This made me sad sometimes. Eventually, I got to stay for weeks at a time in friends’ versions of their cabins in the woods.
I suppose now I’m trying to live deliberately in the city. But, often, I’m too busy to pay attention until something jolts me awake.
A couple of weeks ago a purple finch got stuck in our bird feeder. I knew when I put the feeder up in the fall I wanted a new one for some reason. I should have remembered. Last year, a sparrow caught her beak in one of the openings, and we took the feeder apart to free her. This time, I thought we weren’t going to be so lucky. The bird was hanging limp from the tube, his beak caught in a prong of one of the openings. I held the finch in my hands, feeling his heart beating hard against his chest. He didn’t struggle but let me try to maneuver his beak off the prong. There were little nicks from the metal tip. I thought the deep raspberry color of his feathers near his beak was blood. My husband appeared at the door and I said, “He’s stuck.”
“Oh, not good,” he said, and disappeared to get wire cutters. The longer I held the bird, though, the stronger he felt. Scott cut the wire around his beak and unscrewed the bottom of the feeder. Finally, I was able to pry the bird loose. I held him for a minute, then opened my hands. He flew off, beating his soft wings with a couple of swift strokes.