Creak, creak, creak. That was the stairs. Little feet had woken up.
“Mommy? Mommy!” A not-so-little voice was also awake. “I’m wet. What’s for breakfast?”
And so, I went inside and closed the door to change little clothes, make breakfast, and start the laundry.
After the kids had eaten, gotten dressed, and begun their day’s work of destroying the house, I thought that maybe hiking would be a good idea. I told them about an old cabin in the woods that I’d heard of and wanted to see if we could find. It would be an adventure, and we could have snacks in the car.
They thought that sounded interesting, so they loaded their gear — Spiderman and Batman, a small notepad, a broken green crayon, a race car, and their play cameras. They put on their straw forest ranger hats and their rubber frog boots. They were set.
I loaded up the video camera, trail map, snacks, water bottles, and two changes of clothes for when they fell in the creek. (There is always a creek, and they always manage to fall in.) I was ready.
Off we went, and after a good bit of driving and then a good bit of hiking, we were well on our way to the cabin. The trail was wide and smooth, but a long stretch was uphill. By the time we made it up that mountain and around 300 more bends in the trail, we were just about ready to get there. The kids had set in with “How much farther?” and “I’m tired. Can you carry me?” and I was beginning to evaluate whether it was worth it to keep going. I decided that if the cabin didn’t appear around the next curve, that was it, we were turning back.
Several curves later, I had definitely decided that the cabin had to be around this bend or I was done. History or no history, I had had enough. We rounded the corner into another of the thousands of tiny little coves in the mountainside, I looked around, and there it was, maybe 20 yards above the trail.
We were all so excited that we ran up the small path leading to the cabin. We climbed up onto the porch and peeked inside the door. It was empty, of course, and we went in to explore. It didn’t take long. There was a fireplace at one end of a fairly large room, and there was a small set of stairs that went up into a loft that was directly under the rafters. The loft stretched the length of the room below.
The boys were eager and climbed all around with shining faces. I (having recently read a book on Appalachian history) shared with them my expertise on living in a log cabin.
“Guess who built this house? The dad. With an axe.”
“Guess where the people cooked their dinner? Right here on this fireplace.”
“Guess where the kids slept? Right up there in the attic.”
“Guess what the kids did if they wanted to see out their attic? Pulled out a little mud from between the logs.”
“Guess how many people lived here? Who knows, maybe 10 or 12.”
And with this in-depth look at an earlier culture, the kids were satisfied. They got the video camera and made a video to show their dad. Then they went outside to explore.
All the outbuildings were gone. It was just the cabin on a gently sloping hillside, and while they explored the yard, I tried to imagine what it must have been like to actually live here. I tried to think of all the people, and where they sat, and how somebody cooked dinner over an open fire, and where she cut up the chicken or mashed the potatoes, or what it was that they actually ate. But it was dark and dusty and quiet in the cabin, and there were no signs of life anywhere. The historic cabin was interesting, but I couldn’t imagine real people living here. I couldn’t hear any of the voices from long ago.
I finally gave up and went out. The kids were playing in the creek that ran a little ways in front of the house. I sat down on the porch to watch them, and as I sat, a golden bush caught my eye. I hadn’t noticed it when we walked up, but it was a forsythia in the corner of the yard. There was nothing else near it. It was at the top of the little bank beside the house. Then I noticed in another corner of the yard, a little bunch of golden daffodils. Again, they were all alone.
And it occurred to me that neither the forsythia nor daffodils were native to these mountains. Nor were they planted by a museum grounds crew. They couldn’t be recent arrivals. Somebody, a woman maybe, a long time ago, had planted them. This once was her yard, and maybe she had covered that whole bank with forsythia. Maybe there had once been a fence around the little yard and that fence had been lined with daffodils. She had watered them and watched them and worried about a late freeze getting them. These lone little flowers were all that was left of her efforts.
I suddenly realized that there had once been a woman who had woken up one morning in early spring and come out on her porch and sat in her rocker. She had felt the mist that veiled the bare, grey trees, and she had waited all winter for the soft green that was spreading over the forest floor. She had smiled softly at the sunny daffodils and at the splendor of the golden forsythia drooping under the heavy blossoms. She had sat quietly, just being part of the morning. Then, she too had heard the creaking of the stairs and the little voices calling for their mama. And she had gone inside to change little clothes, make breakfast, and start the laundry.