Fall at the Shack

It’s the end of September. The weather is conflicted, a bit subdued, and utterly romantic. Outside the leaves are involved in their final encore of life, performing most beautifully right before they die with the promise of rebirth in the spring.

Pensive like the weather and the leaves, I’m sitting inside listening to rain falling on a roof, but this one is special, this roof I mean. This cabin is part of my soul.


The cabin is old, built in the early 1900’s by my great-great grandfather’s hands it has changed little in the last 100 years. A potbelly wood stove is the only form of heat, ancient bunk beds built by the same lumberjack who built the cabin stand next to army issue WWII bunks. There’s no running water and a few bare bulbs offer the only electricity. Old tools hang from the walls, and it takes all my imagination just to figure out what they were used for. Among them is a giant saw with two handles and a long rod with a sinister looking claw hanging from the middle. There’s also an old fishing boat hanging from the ceiling of the kitchen, don’t ask me how it got there. The driveway is two worn down tire tracks that fill up with mud during rains. A Horseshoe pit straddles a fire ring, the woodshed is across from the out door john. The chinking between the logs is fairly new, my dad did it when he was my age, back in the early 70’s.

History is everywhere. Names and dates are scrawled on and carved into any exposed piece of wood inside. My great-grandfather’s name is there, dated 1922 when he was a young man. Right next to his, my grandfather’s name is carved meticulously with the date 1946, the year he returned from China-Burma-India where he had been flying missions over the Himalayas. I can almost hear the sadness in his eyes as he carved that, amazed that he was here at all, having watched over 90% of his original squadron disappear forever in the mountains and jungles of Burma. It makes sense to me that this was the first place he would come to try and find the boy he was before the war. Closing my eyes, I listen to the whispers of the past. What I hear mostly is laughter in this comfortably worn cabin, my grandfather’s signature cackle that has filled the shack so many times. When he won another poker hand, or saw another grandchild catch their first fish. His blue eyes would sparkle and the cackle would turn into a chuckle and then a personal giggle as he let himself drift in memories of his own past.  He is gone now, my papa, passed away gracefully at 82 years old, his life full and complete. But he has not left this cabin. I don’t think he ever will. So he is with us now, as we deal out the cards and smoke cigars, laughing about the four generations of Doucette’s who have come of age in this magical place in the woods by a lake. Still a long ways from civilization and so close to the heart.

Walking across the rough-hewn floor to the doorway I see my own name, written by my mom when I was one year old and I can follow it every year since for the last 27 years. My earliest memories exist between these walls, it is the center of my whirlwind universe, a place that the spinning, sweating, stumbling speed of the modern world and my life has mercifully passed by. Every year I come here full of questions, and every year these four walls give me answers. Perfumed by burning wood, cigar smoke, gun oil, and wet dogs, the womb of this ancient cabin always nurses me back to spiritual health. It seems so clear what matters and what doesn’t when you strip away all the excesses of life.