Evan looked out the window and thought, “No backing out now.”
The snow was falling, and falling with a force and thickness that if he did not know better, the young man in the cabin would have thought the world itself had gone white. Gone were the thick aspen groves and clumps of cedar trees that grew tall despite the extreme altitude. Gone was the crushed gravel and granite “road” that led him here in the banged-up old Land Cruiser that had seen far too many winters. Gone even was the stack of wood that would provide him warmth in this long, cold winter of soulful examination.
Evan had spent the better part of his twenties in the exact opposite location from where he now found himself. In a sun-drenched cubicle in southern California, just a five minute walk from a beach he had made a lot of money.
And lost his soul.
It all hit him one day when he had a flat tire on the side of the road. He had no idea how to change it. So, he called a tow truck. He got home to find that his girlfriend had left him a message- a literal note on the door that she was done with his distance and lack of interest. Not ten minutes later, his boss called him and told him that he needed to ‘fix’ a problem. ‘Fix’ meant forge or fabricate something. He had done it a thousand times, but this time, something hit him.
Right in the heart.
He had always wanted to grow up to be a real man. A man of integrity, character, and capability. His grandfather Paul had been that kind of man. A man with strong hands, a soft heart, and kind eyes. A man that knew how to fix a tire, chop a tree, and mend a young boy’s broken heart when his parents had divorced.
He was none of these things.
Grandpa Paul had died the last fall, but before he died, he had said something that Evan had initially dismissed as dementia. But here, now, those words and the image of Paul’s face rushed to the forefront of his consciousness:
“Lose yourself in nature to find your soul.”
And so the next morning he handed his boss a note of his own- it simply said, “I quit.”
He sold it all. All the trappings of his unethical and self-centered life from his lavish apartment to his fancy sports car. He bought the old, worn out but rugged Land Cruiser and headed east to the Rockies.
The old man that sold him the cabin looked at him from grizzled eyes and with less than the average number of teeth he spoke with dismissal. “You’ll be comin’ down the mountain in a week. Two, tops. Ain’t no city folk got the gumption to make it in a Rocky Mountain winter. And this is gunna be a beast of one.”
Looking out at the blanket of snow and the fading light, Evan started to agree. He saw the reflection of a man gone to waste. He saw his pudgy hands rub the smooth and round chin of a man thirty pounds too heavy. He looked at the well-kept two hundred dollar haircut and stared back into the beady eyes made tiny by the excess flesh that crushed in around his eyes. Then he put his hands in the pockets of the two hundred dollar “mountain pants” that he bought because they were “guaranteed to keep you warm and dry in winter.” He saw a ghost of a human, ironically suited up for battle with nature in the very same type of armor he had suited up in for his unethical cubicle life.
He saw a joke.
He saw a man desperate to change, yet still trapped in the materialism he had fled to the mountains to escape. He turned back to the den, a small, sparsely appointed space that would have seemed cozy if it had not suddenly taken on the shades of a prison. No, a death row cell.
Panic gripped Evan. Yes, he had stocks and stores of food for months out in the rudimentary refrigeration barn. Yes, he had wood cut, yes he had fuel for the snowmobile he knew nothing of how to operate. Yes he had supplies- but he lacked the most important thing. The thing he had dreamed of having as an adult. As a MAN.
The Land Cruiser keys were gleaming on the kitchen counter. He felt a pull toward the keys and at the same time, a quiet, almost imperceptible whisper:
“Lose yourself in nature to find your soul.”
Evan turned quickly, looking for the source of the whisper- knowing it had been in his head. For a brief instant, in the faint reflection in the snow plastered window, Evan thought he saw his grandpa’s face. Then he realized it was just his own reflection distorted in the dying light of day.
He looked at his right hand, white-knuckled as it gripped the keys. He slowly released his grip, and stepped back. No. Evan would stay.
He would stay alone in this cabin, he would test his mettle against nature, he would learn to really live by daring to face death.
And it must start with lighting that pile of wood in the fireplace. It was getting cold.
Evan struck a match and lit the kindling beneath the dry, fragrant pine logs. Before the flames took, he placed his hand on the wood and felt the rough and brittle texture of the pine bark. He began to feel the heat of the fire catching, so he stepped back and settled into the old recliner that sat near the fire. He leaned back, mesmerized by the fire as it danced and twisted, sending sparks up into the piercing darkness of the chimney.
Outside, the wind howled and occasionally there was a scratching noise on the window as the wind whipped the snow onto the old, thin panes of glass.
It was quiet. There was no television, no cell service. Evan just watched the fire dance and crackle. On his first night, that is where he drifted off to sleep.
And so was his routine in the evenings for the next few days. He began to acclimate to the quiet- something very different from the loudness of his apartment that was just blocks from a freeway. The only sounds here came from the things no human had made. Mostly the snow for the first few days. It was near blizzard-like, and the old man and former owner had warned him that “nobody finds themselves in the blizzard until the thaw.” Evan assumed that meant he would die in the blizzards, so he waited to “Lose himself in nature to find his soul,” until the snow stopped flying.
In the meantime, he explored the cabin. All eight hundred square feet of it. There was a tiny kitchen with an oven and stove and sink and a small fridge. All run by the generator that was just outside the kitchen window, steadily along providing power to the cabin during the day. But at night, just like the first night, Evan preferred to keep the generator off because he felt something soothing in the sounds of the rough and rustic world surrounding him.
The bedroom was small, containing a full-sized bed and a single window, but it had been covered from the outside by window flashing to keep the heat in. In fact, Evan had yet to sleep in the bed, choosing instead to stay close to the fireplace.
The bathroom was small as well, but then, Evan wanted simplicity, right?
The cabin had the exposed cedar timbers everywhere, and Evan liked to run his fingers over the rough and stringy bark packed down with whatever they had sealed the logs with eons ago by his reckoning. There was a bookshelf in the den, and it contained dozens of books- some classics from the Victorian age, and some more modern paperbacks from the likes of King and Cussler and L’Amour and Crichton. During the snows, he devoured them.
When the snow let up, he ventured out. First, not much farther than the sightline of the cabin. Its small outline was made smaller by the massive amount of snow piled on the roof as well as rising up in drifts from the ground. The smoke poured from the chimney constantly, as Evan knew there could be nothing worse for him than to lose that fire. It was heat, it was backup power, it was life.