Five miles from the nearest pavement, down a dirt road, make a right onto a grass covered forest access road. Walk a half mile down the access road and, maybe 100 yards off the road, in a hidden valley, there’s an old, going back to the earth, log cabin. I couldn’t help but wonder whose dreams, fears, aspirations were once housed there.
We walked past it on the way into the back country, the cabin was well off the trail hidden by second growth fir. It was only visible on our way back to the truck if you happened to look through the trees at just the right time. A dark shape with straight lines in a small field of pine grass. We decided to go check it out.
The trail, not quite a road, we were hiking on was new, part of a winding tentacle like system of fire roads that wind through thousands of acres of the Flathead National Forest. The access shared by hikers, the Forest Service and logging companies. I’m sure our road wasn’t there when this cabin was built. Perhaps there was another road, probably more of a trace, that wandered through the valley. A valley surrounded by steep, forested slopes. A valley that narrowed between soaring hills.
Someone had spent time building this one room cabin. Each log was notched precisely to fit the one below. Logs were sized so a man could manage them, lifting one upon the other to fit a weather tight structure. Once the roof was on, it would be tight and, with a small stove, warm. It would also be dark. I saw no cut-outs for windows.
Despite spring rains and winter snows, it can be dry in northwest Montana. It takes wood, especially a species like larch, a long time to rot. How long was this cabin here? Why was it built?
Searching around the outside we came upon the frame of an old car. I’m not talking 70’s here I’m talking 1920’s. It sat where it had been parked maybe a hundred years ago, like the cabin, slowly going back to the elements. I couldn’t help but think of how transient we are. I dwelled on the temporary nature of who we are, what we build, what we consider important and what we think will last forever. I was reminded of the Anasazi cliff houses we visited a few years ago. I thought back to a visit many years ago to Pompei; to a deserted mining town we visited not long ago. Each place had once been a vibrant community, a collection of people and dreams not unlike the town I, or you, live in today.
We think of our cities and towns as forever. Built of stone and steel, impervious to time. One even makes the claim: 'Rome, the eternal city'. But even mountains slowly wash away. The timeline of man and the timeline of the universe are not the same. Everything we have ever built is but a second of universe time.
When looking at the old cabin, its easy to see ruin and decay. But looking closer I could see a group of loggers sitting out front on a cool evening after working in the forest all day. They are laughing and telling stories. I see a young family with dreams of settling the wild valley. Or, perhaps a lone man or woman who just needed to get away, who wanted to be closer to the natural world. Their dreams and joys may not last forever, but they were real at the time.
Who built the cabin and why? I don’t know. But their voices and spirit still echo in this hidden valley, perhaps passed on to a couple of hikers who made a discovery 100 years later.