On December 29th 2015, our family downsized from a 2000 square foot home in Athens Georgia to a 950 square foot cabin in the middle of the woods. We sold or gave away half of everything we owned, got rid of three computers, downgraded from iPhones to flip phones, and tipped our hats to our former life. This is a series of reflections exploring our transition as we make our home in the North Georgia Mountains and our thoughts detailing what we are learning along the way. It is Friday morning and it looks like we just got thrown into the deep end. Which is fine I suppose. It had to happen at some point. We have only been here for three weeks and already it looks like we are pretty much stranded for a few days. It is 11:45 in the morning and it has been snowing or sleeting for 12 hours. We have two and a half inches already on the ground with a second wave coming in a few hours brining four to six inches more. We lost power sometime around five this morning. We don’t have a generator yet. Not that it would matter as we don’t have any central heating or air anyway. We have a wood burning stove and three space heaters but for the next few days I guess it will have to be all stove. I got our morning fire going and the temperature downstairs is now up to 65 degrees and about five degrees warmer in our loft overlooking the living room.
We have our emergency radio playing. It is one of the ones that you have to hand crank to charge the battery. Since one of our many rookie mistakes was forgetting to charge it before the storm, we end up cranking it a whole lot over the next few days. We turn it over to the weather side every hour or so. When we are not listening to the weather update we are listening to 90.1 WUGA. Irony of ironies. The pretentious faux hipster/townie thing I am trying to get away from is the one thing that brings me the most comfort right now – as long as I crank it to charge it every half hour. I also just cracked my first beer of the day. No doubt made in Athens. Oh what a tangled web I weave. It will not be my last web or beer.
We are still working on setting our daily and weekly rhythms. So much is still new and fresh while others feel old and worn. I feel like Thoreau some days staring out into the woods and Justin Vernon hard tuning harmonies on his computer in a cabin the next. Both were pilgrims. But I do not know if one is right or both or neither. But I know they were both trying to sort out their place and using the woods as the medium to do it so for now they are both true pilgrims and will both inform my creating and how to this point, it is still firmly intertwined with technology.The wind is gusting 20-35 miles an hour with probably 10-15 sustained. Normally our stove burns clear smoke but today great grey waves roll down from the chimney and into the woods like a shook out sheet. I am writing from my desk as these gusts throw out those smoke waves every few minutes or so. Another round of sleet and rain are coming down hard on the tin roof. All around us you can hear wood snapping and trees cracking. Some have already fallen. Others still stand. But they are all struggling and making noises under the weight of the growing ice.
All the small saplings are bent over on the ground. While the dead limbs on the bigger trees continue to snap and fall. Tonight whole trees will come down by the dozens and I will make note of where they fall for firewood later on.We thought being snowed in would lead us to days of fun but instead this morning has been full of chores around the house. No doubt fun but in ways different than what we were expecting and still fueled by the freshness of our first experience of winter cabin life.
It began with the gutters as they were already sagging under the snow and ice when we woke up. Since then I have had the ladder out and been on it cleaning out the slush as long as I can bear as my gloves get soaked to the bone. I then come in, dry my gloves and jacket out on the wood burning stove, and go out for another round when they are warm enough again.
We get out the camp stove to make some hot dogs and coffee for lunch on the porch. We have taken the majority of the things in the refrigerator and everything in the freezer and put them into two rubbermaid tubs packed with snow on the deck. We have plenty of wood but I still compulsively do a rough count of it every minute that I am not doing something else.
The day stays on this loop. Beer. Gutters. Wood. Fire. Crank radio. Dry gloves and clothes on the stove. Rinse and repeat.
When Mason goes down for a nap I decide to walk down the street and check on our car and to see what the main two lane road looks like. Our house is about 3/4 of a mile off this road. I parked the car at the bottom yesterday afternoon as my guess is our road and driveway will be frozen until Sunday or Monday (turns out it will be Tuesday afternoon). I normally walk to get the mail at the bottom everyday – one of the ways I plan to get in better shape after thirty-five years. The road climbs 300-400 feet or so. It is easy going down but slow coming up. Even worse today with the snow as I slip twice.
There are birds everywhere but none of them make a sound. Mostly Chickadees. The cracking and snapping of the trees I heard back at the house are even louder out here. They fall every 50 feet or so and the road is covered in branches and small limbs. There are a few larger trees, 10-15 feet tall, that are already across the road. I drag and move them to the side of the road as I make my way down. As I near the main road, I see why we lost power. A 30 foot pine has fallen across the line and now rests in an inverted “V”, draped over the lines where it broke, burnt five feet in both directions.The car is ok. Covered in snow and ice. I notice another one of my rookie mistakes. I pulled the car, front first, down into a little flat drop off. I should have backed it in as the car only has front wheel drive and I should definitely not have pulled into the drop off. When I finally get the car out on Monday afternoon, it takes thirty minutes of digging and chopping down small trees to put behind the tires before we finally get out.
I scrape off the windshield, sit in the car, let the engine warm, and charge a flip phone. I am stuck and even if I was unstuck on the side of the road I would be stuck on the road. One of the things I am learning about unplugging is that I have more free time to be left alone with my thoughts and being left alone with my thoughts gives me time to see small ironies, metaphors and lessons to reflect on all around me. Either that or I make up small ironies, metaphors and lessons to reflect on as a way of vindicating myself. I am stuck here and I would be stuck there. What does it mean?
What made us move? Why did we decide to go to such an extreme? What point are we trying to make? And is the point we are making to the world? Or to ourselves?
A pine warbler and a downy woodpecker share the same shrub in front of me. Does that mean something?