Fifty years ago my grandpa cleared enough timber on a parcel of land near the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River to build a cabin. He’d spent the previous few years driving on gravel backcountry roads, tramping through the underbrush, measuring and calculating using only a slide rule and a pencil. Although he plied his trade as a mining engineer by day, he moonlighted doing survey jobs for the Forest Service. As payment they deeded to him one of the plots of land he had so meticulously measured.
He cut long, straight poles of Idaho White Pine and built the A-shaped frame. He added native slabs of glacial-sliced basalt, cemented together into an enormous fireplace. My grandmother contributed curtains adorned with brilliant red roses. Together they brought up their outdated 1940’s refrigerator and range.
Grandpa always called it “just an old hunting cabin.” But my mother, who grew up swinging on the old swing between the two pine trees knows it’s more than that. My own childhood is peppered with memories of rafting the pebbly North Fork, of “skipping” rocks across the swimming hole, of hiking through the Ancient Cedar Grove, of examining the oddities in the Spragpole Museum, accessed through the tiny Idaho backwoods bar. I’ve stood hip-deep in the chilly water and fly-fished and treated friends to homemade huckleberry ice cream from the Husky station down at Babin’s Junction.
Now my children are in charge of feeding the squirrels and collecting sticks to roast marshmallows. They’re the ones who put puzzles together at the rickety table and hear stories of the wooden drop-leaf in the back room that came west in a covered wagon with Grandma’s great-grandma. They are the ones begging to go down to the swimming hole and swinging on the swing.
It may be “just an old hunting cabin” but it’s filled with memories. My cousins’ voices echo to me from the trees where they built a fort in bygone days. My mother’s voice blends with her sisters in childish glee as they hide in the woods and peep in the window of the old back door that still locks with a skeleton key. Its beauty to me lies not in its décor, but in the love that through the years has saturated and permeated the old River Cabin.