Friday, January 16, 2009

Cabin Life: Stevensville 1988

When Fru and I first moved to Montana in September, we rented a log cabin a little up in the Bitterroots just outside of Stevensville. It was a new cabin made of blonde wood with a fireplace and two bathrooms. There was a loft upstairs which had the second, almost half-bath and a large bedroom. It had curtainsless windows and lots of jack pines and other trees on about three acres. We didn't really have neighbors--you could sometimes see their lights at night through the trees, so we never put up any curtains. Like I said, it was brand new and pretty and modern, lots of glass windows, but still very much a cabin. For us--who had not even been together for a year yet--it was quite the Montana fantasy come to life.
We had a post office box in Stevensville, a small town with one main street, old time cafes and old time bars. Nice place down in the valley, along the Bitterroot River. There was a wilderness area--Lee Metcalf NWR--just north of town and on some mornings I'd drive down there before going into town and see the deer and ducks, the steam rising from the river and marsh, see other wildlife. I'd pop in some classical music as I drove (sometimes I'd get out and walk a bit) and that just added to the morning splendor of it all. We went to town now and then, mainly to have a beer or more, often when someone came to visit us, but other than that, we spent our time alone in the cabin in the woods. We were lovers all alone among the blonde wood walls. We also had Fru's cat, M.R. A very pretty sweet cat.
Both of us went to school in Missoula, so there was a near daily drive up Highway 93 into town and the drive back. But it was a pretty drive. And when you came back, you could turn off that semi-dangerous two lane highway, onto the gravel St. Mary's Road, which took you uphill into stands of pine and some hardwoods, and then from St. Mary's you'd take the cut onto Macalla Creek Road, which was smaller and rougher gravel, which led to our driveway. Macalla went a little further to one other house, but our drive was long, gravel and made a turn to where the cabin sat on its parcel with its windows and front pine porch and a little slot of green grass and all those trees. We'd often see deer--sometimes elk (you'd hear the elk more than see them) and woodpeckers, magpie, squirrels of course, but mainly it was just so quiet. The sound of wind through treetops. We were there for the fall and winter, so when hunting season came along there was often the sound of gunshots. When we drove by neighbors, more often than not deer would be hanging in their yards, slit open from dressing. That was interesting.
In the winter it snowed and the trees and roads would be fluffy white like a postcard. It happened to be one of the coldest Decembers in western Montana--65 below with windchill (seriously)--so Fru and I dressed warm and retreated to our loft bedroom (where the heat rose to) and stayed in bed watching movies, playing cribbage, reading and other fruitful things. We took a lot of naps on the couch by the fireplace, as neither of us worked those first few months. We had a beautiful quiet time together--what better way to complete our relationship, to glue it together--though there were inconveniences.
There weren't a lot of amenities in the Bitterroot. Stores were Mom and Pop and a distance away from the cabin, so we always had to drive to rent videos, eat out and such. There was no pizza delivery. Mom and Pop is nice, but it's also often of dubious quality and supply. We grocery shopped in Missoula, but the cafes were generally greasy spoons (not the good kind) of mediocre quality, the bars often had some rough characters in them. And the drive. It was a pretty drive to Missoula, but long enough to become a chore. And as the weather worsened, it became more so. The gravel roads and their hills became tough, either icy or melted into a slick gumbo. Her car and my truck took punishment. We never really felt isolated, but the friends we made lived in Missoula and Missoula was where the only real employment was--which was one of the reason we didn't have jobs. There were other small downsides to go with the good of our cabin life.
We had a month by month lease, and after Xmas, in January, we decided to move up to Missoula. It just made a lot of practical sense and, besides, we liked the small city. So, we rented a U-Haul and friends helped us do the deed and we left the Bitterroot.
But I don't forget those months with just Fru and I and the cat in the woods. The loft bedroom, the laundry room, the small back porch where we kept firewood, the big front porch where we sat with coffee or beers, the living room with its couch and small swatch of green carpet and fireplace, the downstairs bath with shower which had a bay window where we kept plants, and the kitchen, with its window above the sink that looked into the trees and our drive, where Fru would do the dishes by hand, where, one evening when I realized I did so love her, I came up behind her and put my arms around her and proposed to her, just as she was washing a plate.
And she said yes.

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