When we first saw it, the Cabin had no electricity, but it did have indoor plumbing and running water. The exterior walls and siding were up, the roof complete, and there was some decking around it. It was built on a set of piers driven into a piece of ground leveled off above a small and steep (but not deep) valley. The meadow at the bottom was a stream a million years before.
The earth around there is white as chalk when you get past the forest mulch, and the things that grow in it are predictable: pines of various types (mostly pinon, ponderosa, and white pine), cactii and yucca, and a shedload of scrub oak. It isn't a dense forest where we were, though we had two ponderosas on the land that rose 100 feet or more. You could see from the edge of the land most of the southern edge of the valley that dictated the settlement; the town was built into a river wash that had been previously settled by Mescalaro, then owned by Circle Cross Ranch (an outfit that used to be most of New Mexico and Arizona).
This shell of a cabin was being built on weekends, and we were conscripted as day laborers who were free to roam if nothing on the work list matched our skill set, which was basically lifting, hauling, cleaning, and drywall.
I did more drywall (and more insulation) in the first year there than I'd ever done before. We used hammer and nails for the drywall, so I was taught how to hang and level the panel, then dimple the nail just enough to allow it to be covered perfectly with mud + tape.
At some point the work would get smaller in scale and require more skill, so my brother and I would be released to the woods with the dogs. At the time we had two dogs, a Saint Bernard and a mutt that we'd picked up as a puppy before my mom remarried. The mutt was a chow mix, raised in backyards in El Paso but now free to roam off leash in the woods. She'd stick nearby, but we didn't see her much when we were roaming...she'd be out hunting rabbit and deer. The Saint Bernard would stay close by, because we were usually going to the river, and she loved the water.
The river there is more a stream. In the summer it would go underground for miles, but was always running in this one spot where we'd found a downed tree to use as a bridge. The water there was usually deep and slow, and there was a grassy bank on one side and trees overlooking a small (less than 4 foot) drop on the other. We'd stay there in the sun, watching the water, listening to music. My brother and I both used chewing tobacco from a very young age...not habitually, but whenever we could get away with it. It would turn into a habit later in our teens. The river gave us the chance to use tobacco...which makes a nice euphoric high if you don't use it a lot. Being city kids who yearned for open space, the forest became everything from imaginary space stations to front lines in WW2 battles to you name it. We'd spend a lot of time, though, laying on the log across the river, staring at the water below us as it gurgled by. That river, even on 100+ degree days, was cold and clear. Too small for fish, the river was not deep, except in "our" bend whee it was a few feet deep. Upstream from us was a cabin that was rarely occupied...most of the houses and cabins and geodesic domes were used for a few weeks a year at best. We were damn-near locals, there every weekend and major holiday, and we started referring to that section of the river as ours.
My brother had a cheap little tape deck / radio thing...not quite a boom box, but not quite a tape deck. We had scant few tapes, among them some stuff we'd taped off the radio and one Eric Clapton best-of thing. This morning on the way in to work I was in the process of swapping out CDs in the car when I heard Lay Down Sally and was hit with a wave of nostalgia big enough to swamp my forebrain. Vision blurred, I had this pinprick instance of those notes, the sound of slow moving water, and the smell of a summer forest floor.
I miss my dog. I miss my brother. He's still alive and kicking, mind you, but his life took a turn when he hit 18 and joined the Marines, was discharged due to injury, and moved to California to live with my dad. My brother had raised me. On those hikes through the woods and even in the mass of work we did to help make the Cabin, we were a hell of a team. The Cabin was eventually completed, and I remember when we put in carpeting and a pool table, and took down the bunk beds (hastily put together from pine beams and particle board). I remember the nights he and I would be in charge of the place while the parents attended some social function or some party, fire in the fireplace, stereo blasting the Stones or worse. Once the Cabin was built, we didn't go up as much...we weren't needed, and we really did want to stay in town with our friends while our parents were out of town. Now, though, I do wish I'd spent as much time as possible there. That song, apropos to nothing, lyrics meaningless to context, still plants me securely in the arms of a small cold river in the middle of the dusty forest of southern New Mexico.
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