The cabin was her first goal. Located in the absolute middle of nowhere, the opportunity to disappear was too alluring to ignore. Finally, for the first time in her life, she would be not only away from it all, she would be far away from it all.
The cabin was only accessible by foot and that was a critical part of the plan. It would take progress at least a thousand years to get civilization there and it stood proud against time because anyone who got there knew that no one was around. No Forest Rangers, no escaped convicts, no one at all. The fear of being surprised wore off after an hour and at the second hour of steady hiking, she didn’t care who showed up. At the third hour, she figured that anyone who stumbled onto the cabin certainly deserved some hospitality due to the sheer impossibility of its location. By the fifth hour, she knew there was absolutely no way any human would or could get there and the remaining fear subsided. Also, walking that long of a distance allowed her to cleanse her mind of all the things that could go wrong and once she arrived, she felt for the first time in her life that she was alone.
She had driven from the city to the edge of a forest wilderness. Following the instructions, she parked her car in an alcove of trees about three miles from the nearest road. The area wasn’t secret or foreboding, it was just remote. The car was parked and locked safely and as she stepped back,she realized that location was perfect. If you were looking specifically for the car, you could find it with a minimum of effort. If you didn’t know how to look for the car, you would never see it. It was safe from rain, snow, animals and people: the car slid into the tree-lined alcove like it was parking itself in a natural-made garage. She was so impressed with it that she toyed with not locking the car at all. However, common sense still present, she pulled it into the alcove, emptied the trunk of her treasures and locked it up.
She couldn’t get over the fact that the alcove was a perfect solution to the only issue she was still wrestling with when she arrived. The car was safe; her possessions accounted for and now the decks were clear for fresh thoughts. She purposely packed efficiently because she knew whatever she wanted to bring was solely her responsibility and she also stopped pondering how this cabin was created. If the cabin was only conventionally accessible by foot, how did the structure get built in the first place? How did the cabin’s stores of food get replenished? How did electricity, heat, cable, plumbing and every other convenience get provided in a place that was supposedly remote and all by its lonesome? The questions were many but as the journey continued, it mattered less and less. However, it still was a fascinating situation; she wanted the luxuries and the isolation and getting both made herself pleased with the conundrum.
She needed this type of adventure. Her work was a series of mind-numbing tasks multiplied by the demands of all types of people; smart ones, dumb ones, confident ones and most dangerous, really confident ones. Sometimes when she really thought about it, she became amazed that things actually got done in the first place. So many things were outside her control, so many people had to do things to allow her to enjoy success and most frustrating, the harder she worked and the more she cared, had absolutely nothing to do with her success. When she was going to school, she thought if she worked hard, she would get ahead. Once in college, she realized that success was relative. Three people could take the same class, learn from three different people, learn three different things and get three different grades with varying levels of effort.
That taught her that things were more of an art than a science and her efforts and persistence were just part of the whole picture. As the years went on, this lesson continued to be brought home. She got promoted more than the average, some of her co-workers were promoted or terminated unfairly and some of her co-workers we promoted or terminated for extremely valid reasons. The only thing that stayed pure was the love of the business and the adventure that came with learning new things and applying what you learned to your everyday life. Life didn’t completely suck but life had a tendency to wear one down so it was time to jump into a major adventure and get good and lost.
The structure itself was not that impressive, it appeared tucked into the woods in a location specifically to blend into the wilderness. This was a place to get lost without really getting lost and more importantly, a place of refuge. The owner was evidentially well known and remained a mystery but until these unique circumstances were in place, she never imagined she would take the chance of dropping out and not caring how and when she dropped back in. One mystery at a time.
"Well, I will be damned," she said, "I am finally here."
It was the first time in six hours that she had talked only because she make the trek to this cabin on foot and a small verbal celebration was in order. The cabin was stocked with essentials and she hauled the rest up with her on foot. The value of her treasures had dropped significantly since she began her six-hour walk but she estimated that she had everything she needed and about half of what she wanted.
Once arriving, Linny shut the door behind her and went to sleep. She was exhausted and wanted to close down and begin to re-group. The cabin was her friend’s idea and as she lay in bed, she was convinced that it was a damn good one. The reasons for the escape were many and Linny’s inventory of motivations was well known thanks to her constantly churning internal analysis. Some of the culprits were obvious: her job, her age, her general lack of interest in many causes and injustices but the most troubling one was the one that failed to elevate into a legitimate issue, boredom.
Linny’s job was anyone else’s: deadlines, expectations, politics and endless starts and stops. The current trend of communal decision-making was literally the last straw. She hated working in groups when there was no reason to do so and it seemed like every issue and task now was accompanied with project teams and subject matter experts. Recently, in a meeting someone asked her was "her functionality was" and she wanted to scream, beat the woman with her own black, clunky shoes and call the rest of the group lazy frauds. She realized that wasn’t a good sign.
She also felt that group efforts did many things poorly and only two things effectively and both of those were bad. The first result of group efforts was that the benefits of gathering different perceptions about some issue. However, those perceptions had to be treated as equals and always cluttered up any kind of brainstorming (not her word) session. Lowest common denominators were always going to be part of any functioning society but the obscene amount of time that was wasted on merging everyone’s ideas was too high of a cost to pay. To finally beat an idea into a shape that did not offend, challenge or confuse left you with only mushy, tasteless goulash. The second thing these gatherings did was to destroy any chance of accountability; neither of these realities did much for Linny and she knew immediately she had enough.
Her age was also becoming a factor because of her rapidly deteriorating patience. She was at an age that trends were reappearing and wisdom of seeing fashions and styles coming around again made her a bit embarrassed. All her efforts growing up, thinking that something or someone represented something truly unique made her realize how foolish she looked. She was smart enough to realize that it is all part of growing up and that only with time, true wisdom can be acquired. But her feelings today were likely to be analyzed in the future and easily the easy target of enhanced wisdom yet to come.
Linny felt good with no ailments or chronic health issues. She had always kept herself in good shape, had no vices of consequence and no history of insidious or life-threatening disease. In fact, her general attitude and clothing size remained unchanged since college, which made her satisfied with her longevity. When she felt her age, it was usually in her thoughts as they raced through her brain with issues and circumstances. The arduous six-hour scramble into the woods left her tired but not incapacitated. She felt as she always felt and as the years continued to pass by, her concentration was rarely on her physical well-being as much as her mental well-being.
The impact of her age resulted in an attitude of growing indifference with the outside world. Dictators came and went, administrations spanned the political spectrum and things just went around in circles. The central themes of the political parties grew strangely closer to a point where there was nothing genuine about major candidates and the desire to volunteer for a cause or debate an issue was gone. Partly because of the energy issue but there was no polarizing issue that had rational plus and minuses.
"How can I debate an issue?" she asked her college roommate at a recent reunion. "There aren’t two sides anymore, there is one side with only a slight difference in coloring about the edges."
Her roommate asked, "What issue are you talking about? Everything is fine." Linny smiled and made a mental note to review the seating plan at first opportunity.
Age brought wisdom and with wisdom came cynicism and her mother’s voice was coming out of her mouth more and more these days and that was another dramatic sign of urgency. It was too easy for her to fall into the trap of wishing to know then what she knew now. Besides being impossible to travel through time and become the most popular kid in the school, Linny knew that the better situation was forward, with a minimum of looking back. There were a lot of things to do but getting some rest was at the top of the list.
Thanks to the first real physical exercise she had experienced in years, Linny woke up and lay in (and near) the bed for most of the morning. She took this time to make an inventory of the cabin that would make up her world for the time being. The stark functionality of the surroundings got her attention right away; there was nothing there that didn’t serve a purpose. The double negative hung in her mind because for the first time, everything she saw was steeped in common sense.
The cabin was almost a single room, very large and almost a perfect rectangle with a few nooks on the edge and the bathroom the only serious exception to the rectangle. The walls were filled with books and maps and they were devoid of accessories and annoying tchotchke which seemed to litter every place she had seen in the last decade. The clean sensible cabin did much to get Linny up and moving a bit. She got dressed, unpacked her little bag and set upon the kitchen to find something to eat. She was specifically instructed not to worry about food and to concentrate on whatever personal items she felt were important for her. When she saw the pantry and icebox, whatever fears of starvation left immediately. She found real food with no claims of being new, improved or fat-free. There was your basic frozen food (meat, fish, ice cream), your basic canned food (beans, coffee), shelves (and shelves) of home canned fruits and vegetables, a well-stocked refrigerator and a large bin for potatoes and onions. The food issue was completely solved.
The small nooks were all filled with comfortable chairs with heavy, soft blankets just within the reach of the chair inhabitants, all surrounded with great light. Small shelves that were originally hidden were right at eye level and filled with other books, journals and a wide variety of fascinating things to read when time permitted. Coming fresh from a work environment that was best defined as the last two weeks of a High School yearbook staff, the peace and quiet was therapeutic and exactly what she needed. She cuddled into an over-sized chair and started to page through a hard copy first edition of an author she had forgotten about since college and forgot everything else for several hours. Her hunger finally jumped to the front of her mind and screamed it was time to eat.
Linny was constantly surprised at what was allowed her to relax and what didn’t. When she was planning on going to the cabin, she fantasized about lounging in bed all-day and catching up with her sleep. After the first night of legitimate sleep, she slowly got out of bed, not completely energized but not in her usual stupor. She momentarily tried to go back to sleep but realized that attempt at extra sleep was futile. The activities that she began to enjoy were the leisurely walks nearby the cabin, with a cup of coffee in her hand, with no particular agenda in mind. The weather was agreeable so extended periods of time sitting on the front porch just looking at nature was another gratifying event. With no agenda since the summer before starting college, Linny was amazed how conditioned she was to begin to move before thinking and the decades of answering the variety of bells had caused her significant mental exhaustion. She didn’t want to travel anymore because vacations seemed a lot like work: airports, taxis, hotels, restaurants and local sightseeing spots. What she wanted to do was to let the world continue to spin while she took a comfortable seat on the sideline.
"Quiero Ser," she mumbled between sips of coffee.
Her voice was a bit surprising to herself. For the first time (there seemed to be a lot of first times that morning) in a very long time, she hadn’t spoken for almost an entire twenty-four period. Usually, voice mails and cell phones took care of that activity and she realized that the silence was as therapeutic as the remote location. She didn’t want to run away from civilization but it was becoming apparent that she had reached her capacity. New technologies and the rapidly changing face of a business that she once knew caused her to remain annoying reactive. She was always catching up to some new product and service and as soon as she became proficient in one skill, it was jettisoned for a newer, faster version. Things now dated so quickly that it was embarrassing to admit to having been around in the dreary old days in the mid-1980’s when someone or something referenced that date like it was ancient history.
She had seen evolutions of great speed from personal computer to fax machines to emails to wireless products to smart technologies. Although much hoopla was generated from the next big thing or killer app, the waste in outmoded equipment and people was getting more and more obscene. Linny was beginning to wonder when she was going to be placed on the executive slag heap with an defect tag declaring her obsolete. She had always heard and used clichés to explain the situations; getting off the merry-go-round, the treadmill and a variety of closed-circle metaphors which implied you were moving frantically but yet, never going anywhere. The distaste for her situation grew and she became more and more fatigued with life. She finally confided in her best friend, who luckily was her best friend, who said that she knew a guy who knew a guy and all of a sudden, she was at the cabin.
The rules were simple: don’t ask a lot of questions and stay as long as you want: No one will bother you, no one will check up on you, you came alone and you left alone. The owner was successful at something (the gender or occupation was never firmly established) who owned the cabin and surrounding lands. The invitation was a personal referral and completely confidential. If anyone discussed the opportunity or dropped a name or a fact, the cabin would cease to exist and the owner would shut it down. It began as a helping hand for the owner’s college friends and it evolved from there. All expenses were covered once you got there and you were assured complete and total privacy. And you stayed as long as you wanted to stay.
When Linny was finally contacted, she said, "Great, I will stay for a year."
The owner (or the owner’s friend or the owner’s attorney or somebody) said in a calm tone, "Fine."
Linny countered and said, "Okay, I will make it two years."
Again the voice, even calmer, on the phone said, "Fine."
Three weeks later, a one page letter containing a location and suggested items came in the mail. There were no releases to sign no written rules to review and no preachy mission statement for the existence of the cabin. A map with appropriate details was basically all the information one would need, and in this life of stifling information, the brevity of the packet was blissful and to the point. The underlying message was to go somewhere safe and pure to get away from whatever demons that were hounding you. When you were done, you called the phone number and said you were finished. It was a simple as that and no thanks were expected or required or accepted.
You were welcome to use it again if you needed it but you had to keep it under your snood. There had not been any deviation from these rules as compliance was complete and the cabin remained as it was intended: a safe harbor. No one talked about it and no articles were written about it and that was just fine with Linny.
Linny set upon to do what she wanted and foolishly, laid out an agenda for the first week. At the end of the second day, the list was crumpled up and tossed into the fireplace while Linny continued to read classics, drink wine and stay warm. There was no television or Internet easily accessible, if you wanted it, you had to search the numerous closed bureaus or hunt for an Ethernet cable or remote but with some effort, it could be had. Although Linny would have liked to catch up on world news events, she began to forget about the outside world and spend a lot of her time reviewing her life. She analyzed the patterns, looked back at history and remembered key and influential events and people in her life. She also assessed her current skills, including the ones that she was afraid she had lost and the ones she wished to develop. There was a piano in the corner of the cabin and she actually sat in front of it while music played in the background. It felt to her that she was actually playing and it made her blush with potential embarrassment if someone saw her from a window. Then a small epiphany occurred: no one was around to watch her play air piano so she continued to play, reaching over for a sip of wine and not giving one damn about anything for the entire evening.
Linny faded into the cabin once she knew she could stay there as long as she wanted. She could completely disappear and never to be heard from again but down deep, she knew that some time she would have to leave and pop up her head for some trying experience. But a stronger Linny was coming into focus and all the things she had there: privacy, safety, a nurturing environment and contentment could be replicated at home. It didn’t push her into leaving early but it did allow her to take her time and let the process of healing then thinking begin.
She continued to sleep late and eat good, wholesome food. There was a minimum of things to eat which weren’t wholesome and if she wanted to eat something sweet, she had to make it from scratch. The cookbooks were wide-ranging and for the most part, the ingredients she needed were found in one of the cupboards. As a cook, there was a few things to be desired but after a day of reading, hiking, napping and sitting on a porch, her honest attempts at cuisine were more than adequate and not as important as the strength she was getting from other parts of the day.
So, in the later part of the first week when the pace was comfortable and the echoes of people yammering in her head subsided, Linny sat barefoot on the porch with a pen and paper and a glass of wine. The pad of paper legitimized her thinking as she doodled different words all over the surface. After an hour of drawing arrows and listing a bunch of recently coined terms, Linny decided that she was still too full of internal bullshit to waste the perfectly good afternoon kidding herself. She dropped the written pages into the somewhat dormant fireplace and reached for a new bottle of wine. The only thing she had established was that she should drink more and didn’t feel it necessary to write that down.
She decided the best course of action was not to rush anything. She had cleared her schedule for a yet-to-be-determined return date and the cabin was hers until she decided she would leave. In other words, there was no rush and she actually chided herself for trying to solve this puzzle too fast. There were no bonuses for beating her self-imposed deadline so she decided to stop thinking and stretch out on the porch for awhile. She grabbed a big blanket and wedged the corner under her head. The sun was still out and the porch surface was warm and out of the slight breeze. She stretched out, gave out a sigh and promptly fell asleep.
It was several hours later and she woke up in a start. It took a few moments to realize that no one was around, no one saw her sleeping on a porch like a wine-soaked hillbilly and most importantly, nothing happened. She felt like she got away with something: she had a few drinks, stole several hours of time and did something completely lazy. She grabbed the blanket and the empty glass and padded into the cabin to wash her face and make something to eat.
She would check CNN to make sure the country wasn’t involved in a war and catch the headlines. She noticed that she was caring far more about people’s suffering and she really became affecting when some tragedy occurred. She actually felt bad and when the news was over, it still effected her and she would spend time realizing how lucky she was and it humbled her. Her old tragedies of missing planes, the lack of decent restaurants, the scarcity of stylish black shoes and the complete lack of downtown masseuses finally paled in comparison with the real problems of the world. She finally felt connected to other people and again, thanked God for her lot in life. She wasn’t preachy when she prayed and she forgot a few standard phrases but was content that God heard what she had to say and she said it from the day. That was a good day.
Time continued to meander by and Linny was feeling as good as she ever remembered: good food, plenty of sleep, time for quiet reflection and the absence of the cacophony of bombarding media messages made her return to desperately needed normalcy. She wasn’t kidding herself about her return and she knew that couldn’t completely disregard her old lifestyle but she knew that she had to make changes, real no kidding changes. If things didn’t change, it would slowly kill her and she knew it all too well the importance of doing something.
Her attention began to focus on all the possessions within the cabin. They all had some value, some intrinsic and some books, for example, were first edition classics from Hemingway, Lewis, Bellow, Faulkner and Thurber. Some of them were worth thousands of dollars and if the books were pristine, even more. The fascinating thing is that the books she opened included notes written in the margin, defining words or referencing other passages in the book. Some books included newspaper clippings about the author or the setting of the book, all lying dormant until someone new cracked open the book for the pure joy of discovery. The books were worn in a manner that books should be worn and all of a sudden, their value was pure again and not bound to some collector’s assessment. Books should be read and treasured as period pieces of the human condition. Linny finally got it: the book by itself is nothing but ink and paper but in the hands of someone desiring adventure or enlightenment, the book truly transcended time and space.
"How could one sell that?" said Linny, "these things are magical."
Linny looked around the room and looked out the window and laughed. She just said the smartest thing she had ever said in fifteen years and no one was around to hear it.
Time continued to go by and Linny slowly became antsy. It wasn’t because she had things to do but rather she was compiling an impressive list of places to go. The cabin, still safe, was becoming cramped and she found herself spending a majority of her time outside. She spent her days hiking and exploring and in fact, walked all the way down to her car and returned on the same day. The twelve hours were nothing and she didn’t care if her car was there or not. It was mainly because she wanted to venture out, on her terms, and return safely to the nest. She wasn’t ready to join the world yet, but she was thinking about it.
The thinking continued as mental lists were being made with a series of things not to put up with again. The list was extremely long and the top items all dealt with avoiding time-wasting anguish and general crap. The list wasn’t ready to be migrated into a life blueprint but certain unalienable truths were slowly coming into focus. The ongoing fatigue was going to be addressed at two levels: less crap and more sleep. The mind-numbing fatigue was something of a memory now and Linny appreciated the beauty of clear-headed thinking. The constant water-torture of ever changing priorities was going to become a thing of the past and she knew what she had to do. She also had re-discovered the word "crap" and was using it in approximately every third sentence.
The simple pleasures were returning. Leisurely breakfasts to aid digestion, moments of quiet contemplation and purposeful traveling from here to there but without the frantic concerns of unrealistic time schedules. Life wasn’t becoming a musical version of Walden but it was definitely gaining perspective and Linny was not going to become the victim anymore. She began watching television more to catch up on world and historical events and she was amazed at the number of tragedies that occurred on a daily basis. Accidents, crashes, innocent victims peppered the newscasts and she began to really appreciate her safety and good health. Many of these tragedies were products of a series of unrelated events: a train crash at a place with the railroad signal was out, a rookie engineer, a young and inexperienced driver and the prerequisite dark and stormy night. Nothing was ever that easy and she was making every effort to remind herself not to seek simple answers for everything because some things were complicated and deserved deep analysis and review. And many things were very easy and basic and she hoped she would maintain her perspective to determine the difference between the two.
Linny stopped doing the math because it overwhelmed her. She had always been a fatalist but she wanted to improve the odds by becoming more proactive with the things she controlled: her self-worth. She viewed the circumstances that brought her to the cabin as symptoms of the main issue rather than the true cause of the trouble and anxiety she was experienced. No one liked a victim and Linny counted herself as part of that group. Movies that she had seen before were being resurrected in her mind with clichés and snappy summary statements that wrapped up bon mots into quick and dirty marching orders. Afraid of sounding like a holder of a Master’s Degree from a directional University, Linny let it lay and opened another bottle of wine.
Her consumption of food and liquor wasn’t that impressive and she continually assured herself that if they (whomever "they" were) didn’t want to have her eat like she was or limit her intake, as they would have told her some rule about it. She dutifully kept the place clean, washed her dishes, did laundry and basically did things when it was time. These days she was really enjoying her food; appreciating the color and textures, smelling the bouquet of the wine, noticing how things tasted in unison in her mouth and allowed her to realize the simple beauty of eating and living again. The quiet of the cabin continued to be therapeutic. The wind and the sounds of distant nature were far more enjoyable that the man-made sounds of music and television. Linny found herself listening to things at far softer volumes that before and for shorter duration of time. The sounds that intrigued her were outside, unseen and surrounded by nature’s structure and shapes, and she was finally balancing the two sources and striving to listen to each one individually without losing their complimentary qualities.
The day she left was news to her. She always felt that she would know which day it was going to be and she would plan accordingly. She would have put everything away the day before and picked up after herself the evening before she left. She assumed that was going to be the plan because that is how she was since she was a little girl. However, one day she awoke early and refreshed and immediately decided it was time. She made a light breakfast, stripped the bed, gathered her dwindling belongings, found her car keys and shut the door. She meandered back to her car, tossed her bag in the back, looked around and slowly backed out of the alcove.
She felt good and with the radio off and all the windows down. She looked forward to going home and doing it all over again.
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