I wake up in between a set of sheets so old and worn from washing (the thread count must be around 27 at this moment) that I might as well be lying on the 20-year old mattress below. There is no heat in this cabin, and so we’ve taken two sleeping bags leftover from when hunters occupied these beds over the last 20 winters or so and covered our goose-bumped selves. Paul gets out of bed first and checks the Franklin stove to make sure all flames have extinguished themselves from the night before. He opens the back door onto a deck, and a choir of birds eagerly belches out their greetings, sounding like wedding bells boastfully announcing and ringing at a church. “Should be a gorgeous day—a little chilly” Paul yells in before shutting the door and turning the volume down on the birds. I get up, groggily sauntering into the living room and sitting down on one of the mismatched couches. I look around at the other remnants of people’s homes: old couches, side tables, and other furniture from when they redecorated, upsized, or moved. Yet everything a person could need—from cookware, to seating, to an old television complete with a VCR—is available for us here.
Paul and I were supposed to be in Austria enjoying a majestic landscape in the mountains, lazily reading, writing, and sipping away the morning at quaint cafes. In the afternoons we were to be hiking through breathtaking caves. However, due to inclement weather (aka a volcano erupting and spewing ice and ash all over Europe. You should have been there for that phone call), we have had to make…other arrangements. Thankfully my family owns a glorified hunting cabin in the Adirondack Mountains, and last minute we changed course from a 10 hour flight to Vienna, to a 2.5 hour car ride up the mountains of Pennsylvania. I was depressed for about two hours after learning that our flights had been cancelled. But truly we’ve gotten exactly what we had wanted in our honeymoon—a secluded cabin in the mountains. In fact, I am writing this at a café in the town of State College (okay…so it’s a Starbucks, but work with me here). On our way down the mountain this morning, we even broke into our own rendition—we have been practicing for weeks—of “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music”. This afternoon we will be going to a cave and making googly eyes to one another among the stalactites and stalagmites.
Perhaps one of the best luxuries of all is the utter simplicity we are experiencing in our cabin. On our way up here we purchased several days’ supply of food for $42.36, wine from a local vineyard for $39.54, borrowed some movies from my grandmother’s infamous collection (boasting over 2,000 VHS and DVDs), and purchased $50.12 worth of gasoline on our way out of town. Now that we are here, and now that we are married, our needs and wants are minimal and easily attainable. If we need warmth, we light the fireplace. Having no internet, and no capability to satisfy our curiosities in 30 seconds or less, or to look up the surrounding area and schedule a day of activities has led us to wander lust, and we have had some wonderful car rides and discoveries. We have plenty of lamps and natural sunlight to read all of the books we were somehow too busy before the wedding to enjoy. Our days are centered on cooking, starting a fire, taking in the mountain landscape on short walks or drives, and enjoying one another. How blissful!
This utter simplicity is something that I began craving during the sometimes maddening wedding planning we have done over the past 9 months. A recommendation to read Possum Living in the Oprah Magazine (I get a free subscription thanks to my husband’s addiction to Coca-Cola and MyCokeRewards) I felt particularly called out to me one afternoon after spending roughly 6 hours looking at thousands of variations of wedding bands. I enthusiastically ordered it from Amazon. It came in the mail one week later, and I put everything down to delve into a book I had hoped would lead me to live more simply.
In this reprinted version from the original in the 1970s, a daughter writes about her and her father’s experience with living on around $700 per year 40 miles North of Philadelphia by making do with less, catching their own food, reusing, etc. Could a person survive without two salaries, two cars, while living next to a large city? The thought was intriguing, especially after having to spend nearly 4 hours of my precious life one day tracking down the perfect hair clip that my sister could use to make my veil with, and spending $65 on the most perfect pair of wedding shoes, which equates to over 9% of this family’s entire yearly budget. There is a way back to simplicity. I read on.
Dolly Freed is a strong-willed and independent woman, which I admire. But in my opinion she has suffered through several hardships due to her father’s way of living, which she has wholeheartedly adopted. For instance, their mother could not remain in “the squalor” they were living in, and so she left them both. She mentions how she cried when her father (whom she refers to throughout the book as “Old Fool”) killed the animals she was raising for food. As a child she always kept an emergency fishing rod and hook hidden away so that she would never starve, leading me to believe that they had some rough times feeding themselves. Furthermore, she mentions almost as an afterthought that she would like to have kids one day, but that someone has to take care of the “Old Fool” because he has no retirement saved up whatsoever, so she would probably have to remain living with him for life. But these nuggets of real life for Dolly Freed are hidden around many other topics, and some that are rather gruesome…such as the rabbits.
I try to keep an open mind while reading her tips on such horrifying things as skinning a rabbit from the herd they raise in their cellar, and peeling off the shells of turtles. While sitting on the deck of our cabin I envision our own life of living off of the land—whether by choice or necessity—and ponder about what our meat source would be. My family has been hunting deer at this cabin we are honeymooning at since before I was born, and each year we receive deer steak, deer sausage and deer bologna. Deer does taste pretty good, and I suppose if I were living off of the land, I could eat it as our meat. I would also be a big fan of keeping chickens and eating the fresh eggs, as well as fishing. Perhaps we would keep a few cows for milk and—though I can’t picture how difficult this would be—make homemade cheese and yogurt. As for the rabbits, I can’t do it. I can’t even describe to you what she describes. And I must admit I was very happy to get out of the gruesome animal-killing section and onto other parts of the book (especially when she suggests eating cats and dogs—Oh, Lyla!).
But it doesn’t seem to get better. Perhaps it is the environmental regulator in me that winces when she discusses things like making illegal moonshine (and also drinking it with her father as an under aged girl) and fishing illegally, with a distinctly audacious tone. Or maybe it’s her blunt declaration: “we’re incredibly lazy. You wouldn’t believe it!” that my inner ambitious self finds so unappealing. I suppose in my own version of Possum Living, I would not be breaking the law, and I would be working incredibly hard…on the things I would need to survive, and the things that I hold dear to my heart. Yet she does raise an excellent point when she states, “It’s easier to learn to do without some of the things that money can buy than to earn the money to buy them.” What an intriguing thought.
Overall, my mind was certainly expanded by this book, and I am glad to have read it before heading up to a cabin in the middle of nowhere. But it truly was not what I had been expecting, and I was disappointed.