The Cabin by Mark Usyk
There’s a lot to be said about a cabin with nothing in the middle of nowhere. The drive in on an old two track, splashing through mud holes and puddles is only the beginning. There’s no pavement to make the ride smooth. No white lines to stay between and no yellow lines to keep you on your side. It’s up to you to pay attention, to pick your safe speed. To avoid the rocks pushing up from below and the deep mud holes that threaten to hide bad situations in beautiful places. The trees are what keep you on the road, not paint. The road in ironically is actually your way out.
The cabin has nothing. No power. No running water. No heat. No air conditioning. No insulation, not even dry wall. A couple bunk rooms, a kitchen, and a common eating room with a large table and a wood stove. It’s dark unless you light the propane lanterns hanging from old nails pounded in the log beams overhead. I don’t like the lanterns. They make a loud hiss and their propane tanks are too industrial and modern in this setting. The hiss, one you wouldn’t notice back in the real world where life itself is noise, here in the cabin’s quiet it sounds like a jet flying overhead. Like white noise from an out of range radio station. The one you just turn off because silence is better. The hiss is annoying. I’m happy to turn out the lights and go to sleep on the old mattress in my bunk room.
In the absence of man-made noise I’m left to listen to a lonely loon calling to a mate that isn’t there all through the night on the lake outside my window. The call of the loon is a true north country experience. It’s haunting and beautiful, and in the still of an Adirondack night, its voice pierces the silence like a sharp dagger into soft flesh. It carries for miles in the quiet. There are no answers. It’s almost depressing to hear the loon calling all night for such a long time. Knowing how great of a distance its call travels and not hearing a return confirms that out here we are truly alone. It’s not just humans that wish for companion ship and can’t find it, it’s apparently a natural thing. It doesn’t make any pains I feel inside me any less, but it does put things into perspective. The next day the loon is gone.
The lake is very alive. Fish rise sporadically as I stand on the dock and peer out into a lifting fog. It rolls and churns on the surface like something alive. Like the flames of a fire it’s rising, becoming thinner and wispy as it reaches higher until it dissipates into atmosphere. It moves on the water with no direction. At first it looks as if the entire fog is rotating as a whole, but then as I stand and study it I see that it has no direction at all. Over here it’s moving towards the center of the lake, over there it’s moving towards me. In another place it’s moving away. It never collides, it simply flows in every direction at once. It rises like fire, it flows like liquid, but yet it’s nothing you can touch. I imagine a scientist could relate its movements on the lake to temperature differentials and thermal activity. I take it for what it simply is. Fog. I don’t need to know any more.
As I walked down the primitive wooden steps from the cabin above, before the sun was completely up, I caught a glimpse of three silhouettes leaving the lily pads along the shore. It looked a little lock-ness-ish, but I know they were the silhouettes of three otters. They’re voices were a horse and squishing thing, the only thing I could compare them to would be someone walking in waterlogged boots. They dove below the surface as soon as they saw me and haven’t shown themselves since. I wonder how long an otter can stay under. I used to be able to stay under for just over two minutes, but that was a long time ago. Out here everything seems like it was a long time ago, and so far away.
Today we’ll hike the river. Yesterday the lake looked just like it does now, fish rising inconsistently but more than enough to make you think you’ll be able to catch one. But this is not a bass lake. If it was, I’d have caught something. Bass are easy to find and predict. I’m told these are brook trout and the bigger fish I see a couple times launching themselves on the far side are land locked salmon, but I’ll have to take their word for it. I’m not going to see anything on my line here before the end of my stay.
Cruising trout taking something from the surface that you never see on a lake is one of those things that will put an angler in his place, and yesterday I was put in mine. This lake is clear, crystal clear. Here you need a really good long cast. On some days I have a poor short cast. You need to be able to make a long cast, with a long leader, and whatever the tiny thing is that the trout are feeding on, and you need it to lay out and come to rest like a single silk from a spider on a light breeze. The landing of the fly line spooks everything. The water is so clear I imagine everything that isn’t exactly what they’re looking for gets closely inspected and ignored. But even before those details, you need to know where the cruising fish are. A rise here or there on a huge glass surface of liquid is intimidating to say the least.
On a river predicting where a fish is child’s play compared to this. Behind that rock out of the current. Just below those riffles. In that foam line, the eddy along the opposite side. Right there in that run where it keeps consistently rising every forty seconds or so. This lake is wide, long, flat. The only structure showing on it is the canoe I cast from. How am I supposed to place this #21 trico emerger, something so small I could barely tie it on, on such a huge, featureless thing, in a place that a twelve inch fish is going to stumble across it in its random wanderings? When you’re trying to make long delicate casts to nowhere in particular and a fish rises within thirty feet of the canoe underneath your back cast, it’s hard for me to believe anything other than the fish are screwing with me. I’m the brunt of some fish joke. But I can take it. It sounds cliché, but I’m just glad to be here.
The cabin has everything I need and nothing I don’t. A lake, and a river. Trees and mountains. Loons and deer and moose and bears and otters for neighbors. Nails to hang fly rods and waders. A porch to sit on. No power, no running water. No cell phones. No social media, no politics, no war. From this end the dirt road leads out, but to me it’s back in. I’d be perfectly happy to wake up tomorrow and find it gone, wiped from the earth like a broom brushes away dirt in the porch steps. Here, I am home.