A Cabin in the Hills

November 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

Today started gray, with a high fog hiding the tops of the cell towers. It’s clearing now, the clouds turning white and a pale blue sky peeking through the breaks between them. The temperature is unseasonably warm again; the thermometer has been manic for weeks.

(As I was writing this, Warren Ellis posted a Morning, Computer entry in which he said, “From my balcony, the clouds had reached down to wrap the spires of New York in their mist.” As always, he said it better than me.)

Yeats sits on my shoulder and whispers The Second Coming in my ear. I’ve been struggling to find something to say here that isn’t angry ranting or terrified dismay over the coming four years, and finding I have nothing beyond those two states—anger and fear. There’s enough of that already in the air, however, and I have nothing of substance to add that others haven’t already said better.

So, an update of sorts.

The weekend prior to Thanksgiving, my beautiful wife and I rented a cabin in Hocking Hills with our dear friends Aaron and Anneliese. We wanted to escape the world for a while, commune with nature, and relax. And drink copious amounts of alcohol.

If you’ve never been to Hocking Hills, and you live within driving distance, go. It’s beautiful, and there are hiking trails for every level of ability. We walked the Ash Cave trail, which is paved and handicap accessible to the cave, and a little more challenging after that, if you want to continue on. We did.

Temperatures had been in the 70s the day before, but the morning of the hike, we woke to frozen rain and subfreezing temperatures. Gusty winds drove the mercury even further down. We cranked the heat in the cabin, and enjoyed a very late breakfast of bacon cut so thick it was almost ham, accompanied by savory scrambled eggs. (Aaron is a goddamn wizard with eggs, but facts are facts: the bacon was the star of that show.)

We reached the trailhead at 3:00 (I told you it was a very late breakfast). The park was in winter hours, so the trail closed at four, but we forged on anyway. People passed us, heading back to their cars as we headed into the woods. After a while, we had the trail almost all to ourselves, and we reached the cave in no time.

Hocking Hills uses the term “cave” loosely; in reality, it’s a deep cleft in the rock, but a big one. Picture a rough-hewn amphitheater shell, and you’ve got the idea. I always imagine cave floors as being solid rock, but the floor of Ash Cave is soft, deep sand; crushed scree, created by the rock gradually shedding its skin for thousands of years.

The gusting winds had denuded the trees and created a thick, muffling carpet of leaves that made the woods even more serene. A creek runs along the trail and normally forms a waterfall over part of the cave. On our hike, leaves filled its bed and a lack of rain reduced the waterfall to a slow drip.

The far side of the cave has a twisting wooden stairway leading up to Buckeye Trail, which on toward Cedar Falls. We decided to follow it, and talked quietly as we walked, then didn’t talk, then talked again. The wind bit at my face, but the rest of me was under layers and warm.

I brought up the rear of our little group, and as I watched the trio of people I love walking ahead of me, I withdrew into myself a bit. I’ve been stressed and worried about a dozen things lately, and even amid the calm of the trees and the hush of a cold fall day, my mind was still circling those fears. Some of them were (and are) real and very worthy of worrying about; others were simply self-doubt and insecurities chewed raw and bloody by weasels.

I’d like to say I left those self-magnified fears and worries in the woods to starve and die, but I carried them out with me and back to the cabin, and back to the city. Some damage must have been done, though, because they’ve gotten weaker and weaker ever since.

Once we returned to the cabin, Aaron prepared and grilled steaks he’d picked up from the same butcher where he found the bacon, and the brats and mets we grilled the night before. (Wassler’s, if you’re in Cincinnati and want bacon that will seriously increase your chances of coronary artery disease.)

I consider myself pretty talented at grilling steak; it’s the one meal I can prepare with confidence. Aaron, however, proved a far superior grillmaster, seasoning the steaks with a rub that tasted delicious right out of its tub, and was even better cooked into the meat. Add to that huge baked potatoes, more goddamn bacon, grilled asparagus, and a few fingers of fine bourbon, and it was a meal fit for royalty. Five stars, all thumbs up, would definitely eat again.

Afterward, we went out into the frigid, blustery night and soaked our hike-worn muscles and joints in the hot tub. Which was, in a word, bliss. Getting out of that 104-degree water into 20-degree air and gusting winds was very much not bliss, but watching steam rise off two beautiful women was a breathtaking sight that made it more than worth the instant hypothermia.

Then there were movies and more bourbon, and the night passed too quickly. Hell, the whole weekend passed too quickly; time flies when you’re having fun, and that weekend, time hit lightspeed. We immediately resolved to do it again, next time for a three-day weekend at a cabin Aaron and Anneliese know down in Gatlinburg.

And then Gatlinburg caught fire. Because of course.

(That probably sounds flip, and I don’t mean it to be. I have spent many wonderful vacations in Gatlinburg, and I’m heartbroken at the devastation. I first learned to love hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains, and now many (if not all) of the trails I hiked are charred, and it’ll be years before the forests they run through are green again. Also, Hillbilly Golf burned, which was dumb fun, but I loved it. The resort we always stayed at is also gone now.)

My friend Jenn started posting nice things, fun things, beautiful things on Facebook as a balm for the post-election fear and angst so many of our friends are feeling, and she used the hashtag #notterriblethings.

That weekend, in the cabin in the hills, was definitely full of #notterriblethings.


I love these people. 

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