The Cabin Key, by Gloria Rand

It’s finally June again, and we are coming to the end of our year of living off the grid. It was never an intended thing, moving into our cabin in the woods of Montana full time. We had a family emergency, and the nature of an emergency doesn’t really give one the time to figure out convenient living situations. So you make do. When my mother got sick last year while we were living in Hawaii, we picked up and moved back, into a tiny cabin that we’d bought 12 years ago on the border of Glacier National Park (and an hour and a half or so from her house and about two from my brother’s house) in order to help take care of her. We thought we had more time with her, the doctors gave her two years. We figured…well, I don’t know what we figured. You find out your mother’s got an incurable cancer and you just do what you have to do. We at least had a place to land. She declined so quickly that I didn’t really have any time or energy to figure out a better home for the kids- my husband stepped into the role of “100% present parent” without flinching, and we at least got them enrolled in school last fall. My mother’s tumor was spreading like clover through her brain, and she succumbed gracefully in September. And it felt like we’d been racing along all summer with blinders on, driving her to radiation every day, sorting out these handfuls of pills, trying to figure out how to communicate with her when her speech was stolen away, making notes for the nurses of how much she would eat and when, trying to keep her at home and comfortable, and all the while the cancer was ten paces ahead of us pulling her into this downward spiral that we just couldn’t keep up with. Everything happened so fast. And then it was over. It just ended. She wasn’t there anymore. And it felt like we kind of came out of this fog and could only ask “what just happened?” But suddenly my mind was totally quiet. What to do? The kids had just started school, I was driving them into town 3 days a week and they had some sense of normalcy that I didn’t want to jeopardize. We thought about renting a house in town and waiting out the rest of the year, but decided that it would be altogether too much moving in one year so we stayed put. We spent the fall and winter cleaning out my mother’s house, tackling the mountain of forms and death certificates and taxes that all have to be put together after someone dies. But mostly, I spent the rest of the year in this tiny cabin with no running water or electricity trying to heal.

I write all this to explain why we’re in this situation. It was never my plan to live off the grid with young kids. My husband and I had lived here many years ago, and we’d spend weekends here, sometimes weeks after we had kids, but it was never set up for full time family living. But after my last post, one of my favorite bloggers, Melissa at Julia’s Bookbag, asked if I could write more about how we live up here. So I apologize for the heavy backstory, but now I’ll tell you all a little more about our cabin life.

Cabin Sweet Cabin

Cabin Sweet Cabin

First, we’re about 50 miles from the town where the kids are in school, where my mother lived, and where we’d lived and worked for 12 years before moving to Hawaii. About 36 of those miles are gravel. On school days, that means we spend about 3 hours in the car. It’s not ideal, but seriously, that could be so much worse. I mean, I’m driving through a NATIONAL PARK with glorious mountains all around me, a rushing, winding river beside me, and often stopping to see herds of elk or a moose or a bear or a wolf, when I could be white-knuckling it through traffic taking the same amount of time to drive 10 miles. And my kids are still young enough that when I turn the music up and sing along at the top of my lungs to whatever angst-ridden 90’s grunge band that comes on the stereo, rather than be embarrassed for me, they join in. So I’ve got that going for me.

Our mountains in winter

Our mountains in winter

Herd of Elk on Our Drive to Town

Herd of Elk on Our Drive to Town

Second, the town where we live has exactly three businesses- a Mercantile, a Hostel, and a Saloon. I have no idea what the population is. All winter long, the Merc and the Saloon were closed, and I think someone was living at the Hostel, there was definitely a guy about a half mile up the road, and we had a neighbor that would come up most weekends. However, there are probably over a hundred people living in the surrounding 50 miles or so. We have dear friends that live ten miles farther up the road and have been for over a decade, year round. Most of the cabins around here (probably 20 in “town”) are empty but for weekends through the summer. There’s no cell service, and there are no electric lines coming up this far, so everyone either has generators or solar or just doesn’t have electricity. Until this year we just did without- but we’ve installed solar panels and have a generator and an inverter that allows us to charge the computer and use internet (we also installed a satellite for that- I could only go so long without wi fi in such isolation before feeling a little shacky-wacky) that we turn on and off as needed. We really only generate enough extra energy for maybe a tiny bit of vacuuming. A very, very tiny bit.

The Merc and the Saloon

The Merc and the Saloon

Winter

Winter in Town

Our appliances (refrigerator and oven) are run on propane, as are our lights. We don’t have running water per se, but we do have a hand pump as our well is located directly under our kitchen. For baths, we pump water into large pasta pots, heat up the water on the stove, and pour it into our claw foot tub- it’s quite an undertaking, so the kids still bathe together. It takes probably an hour start to finish. My husband and I usually shower, though, and we have a solar shower hanging by a carabiner to a hook in the ceiling above the tub- it’s a big black plastic bag with a tiny hose that we fill up with hot water and hang and then stand under while two gallons of water gradually trickles over you via gravity. It’s lame, but it works. Also: dry shampoo. I hadn’t even heard of this until over the winter, but it’s probably my favorite invention ever.

Our kitchen, complete with hand pump

Our kitchen, complete with hand pump

Pumping water for baths

“Hot Water Heater”

Pumping Water for Bath

Pumping Water for Bath

We have both an outhouse and also a composting toilet in the bathroom. The outhouse is preferable because it’s actually quite nice, but since we had a particularly cold winter with temperatures considerably below zero, the composter saved us. We installed a fan that takes a tiny amount of electricity and clean it out regularly and you’d never know it was there. Let’s see, what else? Laundry- that’s my luxury that I don’t even think twice about. I haul our laundry to a laundromat in town and just pay to have it done. It’s $1.10 a pound and they fold it and separate it so I drop it off on the way to school and pick it up on our way back up. I love those ladies.

Outhouse and Vegetable Garden

Outhouse and Vegetable Garden

The cabin itself is 20×20, two stories. The upstairs consists of one large loft bedroom that the kids share and a smaller bedroom sprouting from the stairwell. Can you even call it a room if there’s no doorway? That’s where my husband and I sleep. It’s fairly communal. I think having a door might be what I’m most looking forward to. We enclosed our porch with screens covered by plexiglass over the fall and put a wood burning stove out there so it stayed warm all winter. It gave us an extra 70-some square feet and has been worth its space in gold. Outside, we have a small vegetable garden, a fire pit, and plenty of space to roam. Beyond our property is a large meadow and then the river. It’s really, really lovely.

Living Room

Living Room

Reading in the Nook

Reading in the Nook

Upstairs loft

Upstairs Loft (Her Side)

Upstairs Loft (His Nook) *Note the Propane Light on the Left

Upstairs Loft (His Nook) 

Wood Stove Makes for a Cozy Screen Porch

Wood Stove Makes for a Cozy Screen Porch 

The River and Mountains- Glacier National Park is on the right.

My husband on his SUP on the River and Mountains Behind- Glacier National Park is to the Right of the River.

For four people and a dog and a cat, living in tight quarters is…well…tight. But it’s been a beautiful year of togetherness, grieving, healing, and growing. The kids have been blessedly TV-free without remembering the difference (though some nights we do put a movie on the computer, and we do have an iPad) and with free reign to roam and nothing but time, they’ve been forced to find things to do outside and with each other. They always surprise me with their resilience, their willingness to go with whatever we throw at them. Sure, they’re tired of the long road to school. Sure, I’d love to turn a faucet and have hot water. But this is where we are and we’re making the most of it, together. Everything has become a process (dishes, lighting, cleaning, shoveling in a particularly heavy-snowfall and freezing cold winter) and we’ve really had to embrace it all. I’ve loved giving them that. “Getting back to basics” is actually a lot of work, but it’s been an eye opening year for us, one I really appreciate and am thankful for. It’s not something I would have wanted to do, not something I was necessarily prepared for, but it’s an experience that I’m glad we’ll all have in our back pockets.

Cabin in the Snow

Cabin in the Snow

This is why the outhouse was lame this winter.

This is why the outhouse was lame this winter.

But this is why it's awesome in summer.

But this is why it’s awesome in summer.

******

I think after all that, I probably don’t even need to segue too much into today’s book. It’s about a little girl whose family goes back every year to a log cabin in the woods with…ahem…no electricity or indoor plumbing.The Cabin Key, by Gloria Rand- from www.ameliesbookshelf.com

The Cabin Key, by Gloria Rand, tenderly describes the little girl’s visit to the rustic cabin, where her family has been going for generations. She recounts old stories and feels a connection to her family before her for experiencing the same old-fashioned circumstances. Illustrated with lovely nostalgic details, it’s a book that my family can relate to.

Cabin bath

Um, never pour hot water directly into the bath.

Cabin Fireplace

In fact, I have a nearly identical photo of my daughter like this.

In fact, I have a nearly identical photo of my daughter like this.

*****

We have only a couple more weeks until school is out, which is our ending point up here. After that, we’re loading up our ’67 Shasta and driving across the country to Michigan, where I grew up. Who knows after that. Adventure awaits, my friends.

'67 Shasta LoFlyte Trailer

’67 Shasta LoFlyte Trailer

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26 thoughts on “The Cabin Key, by Gloria Rand

  1. Thanks for sharing Amelie – both the beauty and the hardships of cabin living. Your experience resonates deeply with me. As we look to sell our once off-grid cabin, then home, in Montana I have been reflecting on the experience a lot. I look forward to getting this book and sharing it with the girls. The hardest part of selling is knowing that they will never experience that life…but who knows where our journey will take us…

    Thanks again. Hoping to see you in MT this summer.

    Like

    • Jen, I know you can relate. Living simply is beautiful but also exhausting. Your girls have had so many amazing traveling experiences, and have so many more adventures to come, I always look forward to hearing what you all are up to! Thanks so much for reading my blog!

      Like

  2. GIRLFRIEND. wow. I’m going to say to you what I said to a friend the other day who posted something amazing on Facebook: YOU WIN THE INTERNETS.

    this is the best post I’ve read anywhere online in the past year, and it probably will remain the best post I read for the next 6 months. What an AMAZING story and thank you so so much for sharing it! Your pictures are just lovely, and oh the kids’ room! darling! you did an amazing job making your space lovely and cozy.

    (at our old house, the hot water was broken and if I wanted a bath, we had to heat up pots and tea kettles and then pour it in, and I’d be yelling at Andrew, Hey! One more tea kettle please! that’s my roughing-it story.) 🙂

    how many kids these days will ever have an experience like the one they’ve had? this is the type of thing your great great grandchildren will be hearing about. I’m so sorry, again, about the loss of your mom.

    You all sound like such an incredible family unit! I can’t wait to see where the road takes you next. I hope someplace lovely and peaceful and somewhere I can send a thank you card for gifting us with this beautiful story. xoxoxo and so much aloha!

    Like

    • Melissa! You’re the best, many mahalos for your support and encouragement! I love the visual of “just one more tea kettle”- it really takes a lot of water to fill up a tub, doesn’t it?

      Like

  3. Wow, what a remarkable story. I loved reading your year living in a cabin in the middle of no where. Loved the photos. What an experience to share with your children. There is a book in this! You know as I think about your words, it really isn’t about comfort — it’s about learning to be comfortable with yourself in any situation no matter how extreme. What a blessing this has been for your family.

    I’m sorry you lost your mother so quickly. I’ve lost my mother, father and my younger brother (two months ago) to cancer. So I do understand. Each situation is so different.

    I will look forward to your new adventure to Michigan. I live in Ohio. Again, reading your story was a beautiful gift!
    Patricia

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Patricia, for your kind words. It really is about becoming comfortable in any situation. If I can pass on anything to my kids, it’s that. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your parents and brother. It’s so hard.

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  4. Hi Am, I love how you shared all of this. Moving and lovely and you really know how to write. Keep it coming. And see you soon up north!!
    Love,
    Cade

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  5. What an incredible woman you are! I love your adventurous spirit and it pleases me to think about that being passed down to your little ones. Lucky kids. thanks for sharing this post. I have wondered myself about what was behind your hurried move and your choice to live in the cabin. Now I’m curious about your move to Michigan. Will be looking forward to more inspiring posts and lovely books from your shelves.

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  6. Hi Amelie, I work for a documentary company called Windfall films. I’m interested in making a documentary about people that live and work off grid in Glacier National Park. It looks like you might have some experience of this? If you could drop me an email with your number it’d be great if I could call you. It’d be great to hear about your work and knowledge of the Park and it’s people. I look forward to hearing from you, Best, Peter Fison (peter@windfallfilms.com)

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  7. Pingback: Miss Lina’s Ballerinas, by Grace Maccarone and Christine Davenier | Amélie's Bookshelf

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