I'm back from the lake. The Introverted Thinker and I spent two weeks in the woods, in a cabin built in 1936, with no electricity, no computer, no running water. I missed Everything2. I spent two hours writing every morning on paper. Among other things, I wrote about getting fired to give to my cousins as part of our family letter that should circle around the family. However, four people that I love told me that I talk too much and one worried that I was manic, so I did not give the family the letter, which filled half a notebook. Ah, well. It can join my diaries for posterity.
There are six cabins on the lake, in a half-circle around the bay. I've been going there since I was 5 months old and I am imprinted like a duck. It is about 2000 miles from where I live and a real pain to get to from home, but worth it. i know the rocks and the trees and the taste of the lake. I long for it when I'm not there.
One night I couldn't sleep at 1 am. I got up. I didn't want to waste it. I went out on the rocks and looked at the stars. It is dark enough to really see the Milky Way and the spiraling arms. I went back to the cabin and rummaged for a little star chart that the Introverted Thinker brought. Back to the rocks, trying not to slip on the dangerous bit, and there was Aries for the first time ever. Also Pisces. My usual friends: Big and Little Dipper, Cassiopeia, Delphinus the Dolphin, Cygnus the Swan. Draco the Dragon and the North Star. I went back to the cabin and had a cup of tea. Then out again to see how the stars had moved after an hour. I saw 7 falling stars. After that, I was able to sleep.
I was in the Little Cabin and celebrating the resurrection of the Big Cabin. Various people had tried to get our extended family to rescue it from 7 years of occupation by Little Brown Bats. The bat population measured from 500 to 2000 in the cabin, by various people's estimates. The Big Cabin is a log cabin, built in the 1940s, no foundation and a chimney built of river rocks that is gorgeous. As the cabin settled, the chimney shifted out from the walls, giving the bats a perfect and huge entry. My grandmother died in 1995. My grandmother was the matriarch and three of the cabins went to a trust owned by my uncle and my mother. My mother died in 2000 and my uncle in 2007. Our generation has four people and then there are three other cousins who own the other two cabins. We were discombobulated by the deaths. There was no training program, no leadership plan, we didn't know what to do. So the bats stole the cabin. My other uncle and I tried to seal it a few years ago, with foam spray in the gap between the cabin and the chimney. We wore bandanas over our noses and mouths for the smell and in a vague attempt at safety. We sealed every crack of light we could see, but the bats can slip through a crack. We failed.
One cousin tried to get us moving, then my sister, then two old family friends. Last summer we researched and discussed. The cabin is too close to the water. If we tore it down, we could not rebuild. At last, one of the old family friends looked at me wickedly: "We have a bet, you know."
"What do you mean?" I said.
She grinned. "We have a bet on whether you will repair it or not."
"Damn it," I said, nettled. "I'm fixing it."
I fund raised and we'd found a wonderful man who lived near the lake and worked on cabins. The bats migrate in October and he thought he could do it. The family and friends agreed to contribute funds. The wonderful man waited until the bats migrated. Then he pressure washed the cabin inside three times.
It is beautiful. The logs are lighter and the soot on the roof is gone. Red paint on the floor seems an odd choice since it's dark, but it hides the dirt quite amazingly. We took the shutters down and put up the screens and aired it. It still smells a bit of bat, but the wonderful man said that coffee and charcoal were great at absorbing smells.
I brought four chakra candles from my food coop at home. My daughter and I lit them and read an Onondaga Gratitude Prayer. It thanks the ancestors. The old furniture is still in the cabin, including a large wooden trunk. It used to be full of blankets and old clothes and all sorts of odds and ends. The mice had gotten in so the wonderful man had thrown it all out. Except that before the candles and prayers, I'd looked, and there were three plastic garbage bags, each with a cardboard box. After the prayer was done, I said, "Let's see what is in the box. I can't imagine what he saved."
I opened the wooden box and undid the middle garbage bag and slid my hand in the box. I knew it was paper. "I think he saved comic books. Now why would he do that?" I pulled out a handful of paper.
Photographs. Me and my sister. When I was four and she was one. And these were photographs that I never remember seeing.
It felt as if the ancestors had heard and answered the prayer, blessing us. We pulled out the box. A full book box with photos, all of the cousins, their parents, my grandmother and grandfather and back at least two more generations. I had to clean the remains of a squirrels nest out of the second box, and a few are damaged, but amazingly few.
I carried the pile of photos of my sister and me down to the Little Cabin.
My sister is sick. We are afraid. It is terrible and serious. I don't know how to be a Good Sister during this. I was fired from my hospital district two months ago. I am a family doctor. I have not been on call for two months and I haven't been burning off my energy taking care of patients. It was hard to know what to do with the energy at first. Everything2 has been a blessing and I'm doing 9 years worth of filing and starting my own clinic and reading and playing with my children. At the lake, it was hard to burn my energy. I wrote from 6-8 am and then worked on cabins and worked on the photos and played pirates and talked to all of the people: friends-and-relations, as Rabbit would say.
I tried to be present for my sister, but failed somehow. I did not want to drag at her with demands for time. I tried to be available but not pull at her. I kept busy when she seemed busy.
Too busy, apparently. We finally went canoeing on my last day and she said, how could she get me to sit down and be still? Also, I was too busy. Was I manic? No, I replied, I'm worried and covering.
It was a hard conversation. I do death and dying conversations at work daily. But not with my sister.
There is no map for the territory. There is no guideline. There is no path.
I said that I hoped she was choosing to do what she wanted to do every day. Really, we should all do that, because you never know. I go by my father's rule: if you get 1/3 of the the things done in a day that you thought you could and should, you are doing well. And apply it to your life. What do you want to do? Now, you will have time to do 1/3. What do you choose?
At least now I have a little bit of a guide in how to be a Good Sister. And I have a stack of photos. We are bringing them home to scan them. I bought three plastic bins to protect the ones that we are leaving there and the wonderful man is engaged to take down the trees that threaten to fall on the cabin.
There is a picture of me and a cat. I was two years old and it is in Tennessee. The cat was named Jim Crow, was all black and was ferocious to rats and snakes, but my mother said that he loved me. I can see that he really was huge: he is nearly as large as the two year old in the picture. I'm glad to have it, because I don't remember him. I remember my mother's stories about him and me. Sometimes all that is left is a story and a picture and a longing.
We had a potluck to celebrate the return of the cabin from the bats. I decorated it with the help of the four cousins of the next generation. Pine sol and coffee are making inroads on the remaining smell. My sister and a dear old friend helped get the furniture in place. The kids and I put up photos, all around the cabin, on every shelf and surface, all mixed, back to the mid-1800s. My grandfather who helped build the Little Cabin, a laughing baby on his mother's knee, in 1898. We put the food inside. The older generations sat outside, under the great white pine. It has a spiral from a lightning strike, curling the length of the trunk, but it is alive, and leaning away from the cabin. It was the fourth generation that stayed in the cabin. They laughed at the photos and stayed and talked and played. I don't think that they were worried about ghosts: they have no experience of that cabin except bats. They were comfortable there, surrounded by photos. There were photos of their parents and grandparents that they had never seen and they asked for the stories. We told them what we knew and what we remembered.
My cousin wants to throw out the photos that we can't identify. I don't. It feels like a loss. I want to keep them. The unknown stories, the lost, they were loved too.