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Mackenzie Patel

Take it with a grain of salt, but I love cabins and insects now. I hand-catch fireflies like they’re bubbles and don’t mind cuddling with a few silverfish. The grandest example of biophilia, being outdoors makes me calm and a HD Thoreau transcendentalist. But how did I become a boot-wearing, tick-checking girl? This past weekend, I stayed at a cabin in Green Mountains, North Carolina, on land once owned by the grandson of Daniel Boone. A sprawling 30 acres of greenery, wildlife, and a hand-built log cabin, it was the retreat I needed from my downtown Atlanta office.

The Cabin

I wasn’t raised in tents or “in the sticks”. I have camped in air conditioned, cement cabins, but nothing more organic or wild than that. Anticipation followed me in the car ride to the mountains, especially when the roads were death ribbons and wildlife could ambush at any moment. During the weekend, I nearly ran over four rabbits, their salt+pepper coats dashing out before I could break.

The cabin was built by my brother-in-law’s grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw. They switch between their North Carolina home and one in Florida depending on the season. Papaw is a woodworker and designed the cabin himself, the woods coming from a mountain beyond their stretch of forest. Pulling up at midnight, the cabin was a pinprick of hand-carved light in an otherwise blackened landscape. I couldn’t tell if the cars were next to a mile-drop or more woods – and the dogs were going wild. Daisy, Mamaw and Papaw’s dog, is a Border Collie, her spotted body circling and herding invisible sheep. She was a firecracker, standing on her hind legs and jumping up to my midriff. Although it was nighttime, a sense of calm pervaded the area and the air was simultaneously thinner and richer. Pooped and dirty, I conked out on my blowup mattress of loved blankets and a frilly pillow – the puppies whined and my hair was dirty, but isn’t that the best part of being in the woods? You can be dirty as hell because your landscape is equally as grubby.

Country cabins know how to brew damn good coffee. And beer. And wine. And liquor. And anything else food-wise since Mamaw and Papaw are master cookers who don’t need restaurants to survive. Mountain women cook well and eat better, a characteristic I acquired (at least the eating part). Food is my cornerstone, and when wild raspberries are within eyesight, it’s hard not to become outdoorsy. I’m unable to stomach Publix raspberries, but this natural strain – miniature and sticky – was a feast. Chicken and dumplings, sausage gravy with biscuits, every hoppy beer I could dream of…and it was impossible to gain weight because of the hiking.

I felt strong and invigorated, and things that were important in the city (i.e. commutes, tax returns) ceased to be so here. I would see Papaw swinging on his seat, cigar smoke warding off the mosquitos and binoculars slung over the side. A set of useful knowledge (i.e. on plants, animals, and topography) comes with being “outdoorsy.” It grows your common sense, and I could certainly use that. I learned what Nugget Hops are: a mini beer hop that’s used for stouts. The yellow powder inside the cluster smelled like the grains of a brewery, bitter and deep. Beer = outdoors, so I’ll gladly be a mountain woman if it means two+ Gaelic Ale’s an evening.

Speaking of Gaelic Ale, I went to four breweries this weekend: Highland, Burial, Bhramari, and Wedge. All were hipster and tasty, selling their brews to a tattooed crowd. Appreciating a double IPA (or hardy beers in general) is the trademark of a no fuss woman; there’s no Margaritas or Prosecco for us. Saturday was also spent in Asheville’s Arts District. Fronting Wedge Brewery is Wedge Art Studio’s, a two-story space dedicated to artists and their oil paints. This wasn’t a regular, humdrum gallery with static walls and elevator music. The artists were actually working in the gallery, easels and canvases set up amongst their ready-for-sale art. Most were ladies with wild, graying hair, and it was fascinating to see their works materializing in front of me. The heat was unbearable, but mountain women don’t mind the sweat. I also got away with not shaving for three days – my legs haven’t been this furry since last winter.

After Highland Brewery, the rest of Saturday was spent at the cabin. I drove for the first time through mountain passes, gravel roads, and bridges where grazing horses and donkeys were a few feet away. Tom Petty’s Free Falling was a real life of accelerating from 45 mph to 60 mph as a downhill drop-off approached. Mountain women have no fear of fast-flying cars and casual drops – Gainesville roads will be so dull now…

I used to squeal at dragonflies and roaches, but Saturday night was chasing fireflies in mosquito-riddled air. No amount of red welts or baby hairs sticking to my face could stop me – I was determined to be a buggy child again. Eventually, I cupped a firefly in my hands and dumped it in an old Dixie cup. Although I forgot to set it free later (it died), the long exposure shots I took were incredible. Capturing nature, especially when it’s radiant and still, has the same holy qualities as a Hozier song – affecting and thoughtful. Papaw taught me the mechanics of long exposure (shutter speed: 15’’, aperture: 4.0, ISO: 100) and let me shoot with his massive telephoto lens. The extending lens was truly a Canon telescope, and I became the Jack Sparrow of Green Mountains.

Daisy!

Sunday morning was gorging on raspberries and hiking the trails beyond the cabin. Mushrooms peeked, browning and soggy, through the dirt. The dogs sniffed and barked through the clouds of insects. Tick bites were real and hat hair made me look like a flattened blob fish. It’s alright; I enjoyed gnats lacing my lashes and seeing light through filtered, uncut trees. Even sweating through long sleeves and jeans wasn’t horrible – the silence was refreshing, and nature’s version of a La Croix water. After the meals of buttercrust and fat, exercising uphill was wonderful.

I loved watching Daisy, the Border Collie, growl at branches and chase her tail in herding circles. That girl really needs some cattle…Sunday afternoon was spent at Highland Brewery celebrating my brother-in-law’s 26th birthday. Asheville and Burnsville (the highlight of which was the McDonalds and Ingles) were nice, but I missed the cabin. There, it’s acceptable to be anti-social and stare at the mountains, silent, for hours.

Wooden swings were never crafted so well. And journal entries never took so little time to write. The outlined mountains and treetops looked green-screened, but they were a perfect backdrop for my musings. On the whole, my thoughts are stupid and inconsequential. But while knocking back a Gose and having puppy spittle on my arm, they were important. I also adore photographing drinks on low aperture mode – the cans are dripping and crisp, the background a blurred emerald.

Cookie cake evenings and long exposure midnights should never end. I tried to catch fireflies again, but I was too busy taking pictures of the moon and Papaw’s cigar. Music spilled out of the old radio, all warbling voices and static. The bluegrass banjos coordinated with the flare of Papaw’s cigar and the steady swing of his feet. Classic country and backwoods bluegrass were perfect in that moment; it’s a highly situational genre, and I’m not sure I’d like it in the city. But when cuddling a lab or listening to a donkey’s whine, it’s the only music I want to hear.

I love this cabin and this puppers.

Insects showered with me and wet hair never dried, but I was sad to leave North Carolina. The trip was only 2.5 days, but I learned and absorbed more than any accounting class has taught me. Long exposure shots, humility, hops gardening, mule genealogy, bluegrass instruments, playing with teething dogs – I could never stop writing about it. It was such a respite from my job, although it didn’t feel like “running away,” per say. It was a retreat just as challenging as Peachtree Street, but more to my flavor.

All I need is some Timberland boots and a flattering hat, and I’d be a mountain woman for life.

Cabin Gallery

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