It’s a small cabin with sky-blue metal roofing. You don’t have to look closely to see it’s been built in installments. Gary added on to the tiny original building years ago, moving the kitchen and adding a porch. A new addition is underway; he’s building me a shower and adding storage.
After months of anticipation, I am excited to see my new home. Stepping in the front (and only) door for the first time, I find myself in a full kitchen with a sink, propane refrigerator/freezer and—to my surprise—a propane stove (I thought we only had a wood stove).
The kitchen has plenty of counter space and storage but just a tiny, faucet-less sink. On the floor next to it are two, five-gallon, covered buckets of water; two well-dinged metal pans–one a bit larger than the other–hang above them to ladle water for dishwashing or cooking or drinking. In summer months we pump water from the campground well nearby; otherwise it comes straight from the creek, and we will have to filter or boil it for most uses.
As I step into the main room, the view grabs my attention. Windows on all sides take advantage of the glorious setting, with the most dramatic being the Alaska Range to the north beyond an expanse of tundra and spruce.
Looking around the room I notice how each wall, beam, and bench, each space under a counter, table or sink, is storing something. No fewer than six fishing rods hang on the ceiling beams; boots, jackets, wet socks, tools, towels and kitchenware hang from the ceiling, on walls, over the stove, and at the tops of window frames. I see my books among the many lining the shelves along the uppermost part of the wall. Along with my books, I had mailed part of my large collection of boots ahead, and find them hiding in a small chest under the dining table. Though the table is small, Ella’s bed fits under it too. It will take me a year to discover all the art hanging on the walls and in every window and corner.
We keep huge stockpots of water on the wood-burning stove centered in the main room. Soon we will keep the fire burning throughout our waking hours, but days are warm enough now to let the morning fire die and heat water on the stove.
A long wide desk-height counter runs the full width of the cabin on the north side, with two rows of shelving underneath. I use the left side for my workspace, and Gary has the right side for his. On the wall opposite the dining table is a sink—a bathroom sink, but for want of a bathroom.
I climb six steep ladder-like steps to the bedroom loft, bumping my head on arrival. Even so, my first impression is that the room is huge. The loft shares the contours of the A-frame roof sheltering it, and its high ceiling peak makes up for the low outer edges. There are no closets; storage consists of trunks and cardboard boxes under the bed and beneath shelves built along the low walls of the room. Only the chimney coming up from the wood stove below interrupts the sense of openness.
We read long into the evening without artificial light. It used to make me crazy when, in our San Francisco apartment, I would find Gary reading in the dimmest evening light; now it seems natural to conserve when we don’t know whether tomorrow will bring sun for our generator. Last week Gary put in a lamp over the dining table, a big improvement over the propane lamp that is dim and too high for me to reach.
You can’t go home again. But when you go there for the first time, is it home yet?
My mother used to say, “It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house to make it home.”
I see all the work Gary’s done to create space for my things, to make a place for me. Knowing how much I enjoy my showers, he set out to build me one. He’s worked hard these last three months to make this a place we could call home. For a few days I did feel like a guest, unsure where things were, where they went, or even how to manage washing the dishes or bathing. But the care that shows itself in all that has been done or is planned for my comfort, for our comfort—that is the heart of a home. I still have a heap o’ livin’ to do here, but this spot of light and warmth in the wilderness is fast becoming my home.