Chapter 2: TRASHMAN’S CABIN

By Joan Rivard 3 years ago5 Comments

Now he was close enough to see the outlines of some of the cabins, and the white smoke curling out of their chimneys.  He liked the way their glowing windows looked in the grove of white birch next to the pond.  It looked like a Christmas card, or a dream.  The ground was uneven around the pond and the cabins were built at different levels and angles, connected to each other by slippery little paths of beaten-down snow.

Some of the cabins had flat roofs where in the summer grass would grow on dirt and moss that was piled on them.  Others had roofs that were strangely peaked or shaped, each expressing the creative urges of the individual builders.  The beautiful new logs shone blond against the sparkling snow.  There was something so clean about it all, so real.  The whole thing looked like a magical place in a fairy tale, and that’s exactly what it was.

As he approached he began to hear the sounds of an axe, a dog barking, and a door opening and closing.  It was probably the door to the only outhouse in the community, the only door light enough to make that sound.  The doors to the cabins were five inches thick and weighed about fifty pounds.  Each was a hollow rectangular box constructed from two-by-fours and plywood, and filled with six-inch-thick pink fiberglass insulation.  These doors were not just opened and shut but pushed into place, so that no cold air could enter the cabins.

Now he could see his own cabin, which had not been visible from the road because of the way it faced the pond.  He carefully maneuvered the snow paths, skirting two other cabins then walking past his big woodpile, stacked to the roof against the back wall.  Even through the thick log walls and door, and before he could see into the picture window, he knew that his cabin was filled with people and music.

He approached the cabin door under a kind of lean-to he’d made of leaning sheets of plywood.  Instead of a doorknob, the wooden frame door had a block of wood nailed on to use as a handle.  He grabbed it with both mittened hands and tugged on it until the big wooden frame was dislodged and the door opened.  He stepped in over a raised threshold and closed the door quickly, pulling it shut with the weight of his body until the insulation around its edges made a solid seal.

When he opened the door and stepped into the warmth and light, the biggest thing to hit his senses was the music.  A cassette tape played on someone’s battery-operated tape deck.  He heard the words, “Come on people, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.”  The music was rather loud for such cramped quarters, but not so loud that people couldn’t talk.  The people’s voices too were loud and excited, as they discussed the meaning and effect of this song and others like it in their lives.

Inside the twelve-by-twelve cabin, almost a dozen young people of both sexes socialized.  Some sat on upright logs used for stools and others lounged on a bunk bed set up in one corner.  They greeted their host heartily, their inarticulate welcome even louder than the music.  On one side of the room there blazed a small woodstove, oval-shaped and flat on top with a couple of cooking holes.  A large pot of brown rice bubbled on the stove, and a kettle of hot water.  The scents of cooking food and burning logs and incense were mixed with the perfume of pine resin from the new logs.

The metal army bunk bed was different from the high platform beds most cabins had.  Because heat rises, in a cabin heated with wood it could be blazing hot near the ceiling and freezing cold on the floor.  A fan could help distribute the heat but here there was no electricity to run one.  But there were so many people moving around that there was no problem with air circulation.  Some were sitting on the floor and were quite warm.  It helped that Trashman’s cabin floor had a rug.

The kind of woodstove which Don had provided each cabin would not have kept the cabin from freezing during a day-long absence, if there had not been people there to keep the fire going.  The thin metal sides of this stove wouldn’t hold the heat, and the wheel-shaped grate did not close snugly enough to make the fire-box airtight.  Most cabins in the North had big stoves made of thick cast iron.  You could stuff these with thick logs and close them down real tight so they would burn slowly all day or all night.

This stove was enhanced by a five-foot-wide concave mirror that Trashman had found at a dump near the university.  They didn’t know what it was, but it turned out to be a wartime implement to help direct aircraft.  This was ironic for a bunch of Pacifists, transforming a tool of war into a decoration to inspire higher consciousness.  This spectacular object that looked like a lens was supposed to reflect the heat, and it gave the room a mystical quality.  The big, round curved disc mirroring the red-hot stove seemed like a doorway into other realms.  The exotic fragrance of rope incense from Nepal encouraged this impression, along with the bell-like sound of a large metal wind chime that hung at the picture window and was swayed by the warm air currents from the stove.

Trashman removed his heavy parka and hung it from a nail near the front door, where several parkas and an assortment of mittens and scarves hung from a row of large nails driven right into the log wall.  He peeled off his frozen scarf and used some of it to wipe the frost from his face.  Now could be seen his beautiful Scandinavian sweater, with geometric patterns made with grey and creamy white natural wool.  Now the lamplight highlighted his symmetrical, luminous features, high cheekbones and noble forehead.  His eyes showed intelligence and depth of feeling, but often with a twinkle of mischief and irreverence toward the status quo.

Sometimes he ventured into the cold with just sweaters and no parka, without being affected by it.  He looked and moved differently than the others in their bulky clothing.  This was, however, the middle of winter and even he needed a parka to walk the five miles from the university.  One of the guests stood up from the only real chair in the room, which faced the pond, so that their host could sit on it.

Trashman-AlaskaAs he gazed at the pond from that vantage point, with the sound of the windchime and the music, he was aware that this was a unique experience and time in history.  The pond looked just like ponds had always looked, just like it had when the prospectors had come.  Yet he sat behind a modern five-by-four-foot thermal plate glass window, listening to music and ideas that those men couldn’t have dreamed of.  Like the river the pond was flat and sparkling white and looked like a road into the infinite.

In the animated talk and music of Trashman’s guests there were occasional lapses of profound silence, when the timeless crackling of the fire, and the simmering pot of food, and the wind chime, made the only sounds.  It felt like a church, or a temple, or like some comfortable and familiar, yet intangible, place in a dream.  Maybe it was because of the extreme cold outside that the heat from the little stove seemed to cast an ethereal warmth.  The ancient tribal circle around the fire, the sharing of confidences in dim kerosene light, seemed to evoke something from the collective memory of mankind.

They talked about Woodstock, which that summer they’d heard about on their battery-operated radios.  Some had access to newspapers and television when they went to town, and they’d seen pictures and news shows of half a million people gathered to listen to the music that stirred so many hearts.  The fences had gone down under the feet of the crowd, and it had been announced that from then on the three-day concert would be free.  The whole country and the world got to see the bright flowing clothes, hear Peace Drums.

There was plenty to talk about in the words to the songs that had been played by the bands, which were listened to over and over on radios and cassette players inside the cabins.  Universal brotherly love, a radical subject banned by dictators, monarchs and religious leaders, was the topic of many of the songs.  An end to war was their common goal, particularly the fiasco in Vietnam.  They had heroes like the Prince of Peace, Ghandi, the Kennedys, and MLK.

They talked about the giant drum circles they’d seen on TV, the Peace Drums of all the nations beating together.  What a beautiful sound they’d made, just one little blip on the news, one vision that had ignited fireworks in so many brains.  It was a picture of who they were, what they represented.  It was a happy, hopeful sound, this sound of swords beat into plowshares.

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  Alaska
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