I’ve been thinking of all the ways I’d tell you about The Owl’s Nest, but every time I start it doesn’t give it justice. So I figured I’d just take you there.
Imagine a place in the woods where time stands still. Once you arrive you lose all sense of when you got there, what you left behind or undone, or what’s waiting for you when you get home.
You have no cell phone reception, and for once, good God, you actually don’t care. You’re even happy about it.
You’re in a cabin, but there’s no electricity, no plumbing. Yet, no matter how greasy your hair, how smelly your pits, or how scared you are of the outhouse, you don’t mind. If you do mind (like some ladies I know!), you quickly learn to master the art of not peeing (or doing anything else) all weekend.
You wash dishes by gathering gallons of water from the brook out back, boiling it over propane burners, and dunking plates into giant aluminum tubs. If you want to shower, the brook is also good for that, where a steady stream of melting snow from the white mountains is constantly flowing. (If you look closely in this picture, Joe and Christian are taking a manly dip in the icy brook. They’re looking a little pale.)
The house is tiny, but peppered with hundreds of what you can only call “manly trinkets.” Hanging from the ceiling beams are fishing lures, small animal skulls, bird calls, antlers, and feathers. Little owl drawings and statues hide in every nook and corner. Those are just the things I recognize. Every single item, from the fish measuring spoons in the kitchen to the coffee can covering the toilet paper in the outhouse, is there for a very good reason.
And the kitchen: cast iron pans older than you or me. Coffee mugs hanging just so off the pantry shelves. Perfectly labeled containers for grains, flour, and coffee. A wood stove that you’d never imagined you’d see functioning in real life.
The nearest city, if you could call it that, is Middlebury, VT, where you’re likely to see a moose just outside town on your way up the hill to the cabin.
I could go on, and ironically, I don’t know a single thing about this cabin. I can’t even tell you why it’s called The Owl’s Nest. I can only tell you the basics, and what it’s meant to us kids since we’ve been visiting the last few years.
Our friend Phil’s grandfather Homer hand-built it with his brother and brother-in-law in the 1960s. The story goes that they didn’t measure a thing when they built The Owl’s Nest. Everything was done by sight. To determine the height of the porch railing, for example, they sat on the porch and tried a few heights until it felt right. The group of guys, now in their eighties, called themselves Perch Unlimited (PU), since they’d go up there for perch ice fishing on Lake Champlain (about an hour drive north of the cabin) every winter. Homer actually wrote an entire book about the place’s history that lives in the cabin. I’ve been reading it in installments. I still have a way to go.
I’m telling you about this not just to recap my weekend. The Owl’s Nest is the ultimate family tradition passed on from one generation to the next. What one grandfather built with his brothers, a grandson embraces and keeps alive. Everything they did in the 60s, from the way they stacked the wood, lit the stove, tucked in the beds, washed the dishes, and fished the stream, Phil has learned and even shared with us. Once we snap out of our awe over the place, we want nothing more than to keep it exactly as it was. Not for the purpose of “doing things like they’ve always been done,” but more out of respect for the traditions and everything Homer and his buddies worked for to make the place what it is.
Phil and the guys have made some exceptions: these days, the dam that Homer & Co. built in the brook doubles as a beer cooler. That White Mountain snowmelt is good for more than just bathing. And the perfectly planned porch railing doubles as an empty beer-bottle perch until we bring them away with us Monday morning. Other than that, not much has changed, because not much needs to.
The Owl’s Nest holds a certain magic exempt from the spoils of modern life. It’s just you, friends and family, trees, bugs, fires, and the constant brook out back. The moment you get there, you realize it’s all you ever really need.