Northeast Kingdom of Vermont

"THE CABIN IS LIVING AND BREATHING AND STILLS NEEDS CARE AND ATTENTION."

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY

John Hesselbarth

 

We drive through the small town with the river snaking through the rolling hills to our left. The road meanders through fields and meadows. Weathered barns rest in oceans of tall grasses. Our headlights illuminate the landscape as our tires go from gravel to dirt. Time seems to slow a bit. The woods are waking up from the harsh and silent winter. The water trickles down the mountains. It is spring time in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and we are trekking to the cabin built by my wife Kate’s parents in the late 70s.  Over a few summers and falls with their friends and family they came together to harvest what the forest had to offer to create a refuge off the beaten path.

Kate and I make our way through the soggy logging roads and trails. We pass the A frame and she shouts "this is half way, the easy half though". We can canoe our gear across the pond, but decide to walk it around. At one time you could drive this path, but over the years the forest had reclaimed its property. 

As we come around the final bend the cabin is in our sights. It sits atop a steep climb, nestled between birch trees and pines. It was built with passion and persistence in the long, humid days of summer, and still stands tall and proud amongst the wild forest.

The trees needed to be cut and the plans drawn. Materials were hiked in from an old hunting cabin that sat near the pond. As the weeks went by the walls grew tall. Tolls broke, laundry was hauled out and back in again, cases of beers consumed, and volunteers come and gone. Because of the hard work and dedication of this group of friends, we have a quiet place to retreat to. The cabin is living and breathing and stills needs care an attention. Chopping wood for the winter, maintaining paths, weather coatings and hauling water from the spring.  All these tasks don't seem like work when one thinks of notching logs and fitting them perfectly into place or balancing atop a ladder all day securing the roof. The bay windows were canoed across the lake and the fridge hauled up the winding path. A beautifully ornate couch is the center piece for the "living room" while all the hand tools used to build the cabin are displayed on the wall. Great lengths have been made to curate a beautiful space. 

Kate and I watch the storms roll over the white mountains while we drink beers on the porch. Nighttime descends quickly in the dense forest.  After a delicious meal Kate reads me Winnie the Pooh stories in bed as the stars pass by our window. 

I have been back to the cabin several times since my first trek out into those woods, still just the boyfriend. I've earned my four seasons badge, each season such a different experience than the other. If you're not hiking in through rivers and streams in the spring you're trekking though waist deep snow in the winter. We ran into black bear cubs on one occasion. A young cub dropped from a tree as we were passing quietly. Unaware of each other we nearly collided. Equally surprised we were both frozen. On another trip in we hitched a ride on a snowmobile with a man from town. As the sun was setting and temperature plummeting he convinced us we needed a lift in. I held on the back of the sled as if I were in the Iditarod while Kate sat inside amongst our propane tank, case of beer and sleeping bags. Heading in at night all that exists is the beam of light in front of you as you ponder all the wild that is watching you blindly pass by. 

Now that I have been inducted into the family my relationship to the cabin has changed. No longer is this a place that Kate brings me for a getaway, but instead a place I must care for. I must think of the cabins future, make sure it is safe and make sure it is sound. We are the next generation of cabin caretakers and must make sure it flourishes under our watch. 


John Hesselbarth is a collector of artifacts, seeker of experiences, day dreamer, map watcher, and photographer from Rhode Island. The newest member of a family who built and maintains a cabin in the Northwest Kingdom of VT. To see more of his work, visit www.johnhesselbarth.com