On the five-hour drive to Brad’s cabin I kept it cool in the car to stay awake, to keep my cold tolerance up. Driving across the state to the east, how it all flattens to farmlands and big skies, windmills, rounded-off hills. And how badly I needed to forget my ties, to escape to the hills and lose myself for a time.
On Thursday I woke to a notification saying Wintry mix starting in 10 minutes. It was no mix, but pure snow for several hours, from dawn to afternoon. We walked the land around Brad’s, a dead tree he cut down and started sawing for firewood, drying the rounds under the back deck. We saw a mother moose and her calf, a cabin under construction in an adjacent lot, the jib and pulley system to lift the logs into place, a work table with nail aprons and saws stowed below, covered in snow, all of it roofless and exposed to the elements, including the stove.
Back at the cabin, there were only a few things to do and we took turns doing them, starting with the fire, the cooking, and the music playing. Brad’s childhood friend Jim lives with him at the cabin, an arrangement that began with Jim acting as caretaker when Brad lived on the other side of the state—but now Brad’s ready for Jim to move on, and doesn’t have the heart to tell him.
The three of us played the board game Risk, Brad controlling the Americas—Jim, Africa and southern Europe—me, Asia and Australia. I won mostly by luck, holding the line at the Middle East and Afghanistan, then punching through Ukraine, Scandinavia, Iceland.
Trudging across the crunchy snow with Ginger on a morning walk, back to the county road, past the tree where Brad buried his kids’ placentas—back to the cabin for the tiger milk Brad makes with turmeric paste and the honey we brought back from the Austrian Alps, last August. We planned to drive up to British Columbia, to some hot springs on the Canadian side, but with all the snow I just wanted to bunker down at the cabin for a day.
On Friday we drove into town to the store and rented a DVD, I cooked chili, and Jim made another batch of cookies with the sour cream frosting. The internet was bad, but I kept going back to my phone to see what was there. And outside on the porch, where Jim and Brad took turns with cigarettes, the icicles took on the shape of witch noses dripping—and the wild turkeys came by the feed stand and pecked and pecked and pecked, and the snow man toppled over and the dog pissed on it—and I wondered how I’d get my car down the road when it was time to go, with no snow tires.
We drove an hour east on the last day, crossing the Pend Oreille river in a town called Usk, near the Idaho border. A town with a lumber mill, post office, bar and grill, a drive-up espresso stand that closes at 2. The look of the snow-covered fields, with strands of grass poking through—the floodplains that stretch on and on—clouds giving way to streaks of silver-blue, like the colors in an abalone shell when turned on its side, revealing pockets of pink and gold.
When it was time to go, I took the back way driving home, put a mix CD on by The Byrds, and sipped coffee for a good, long hour: no one to speak of on the roads, the snow giving way to fog, little towns with shit yards, leaning fences, a sign that says Ban School Gun Control Laws. And on and on, through the fog and the long, flat highway I hurried home to cook soup—and we sat around the kitchen table holding hands, the four of us—and I went to bed early so I could get up in the morning and write while it was still dark, to remember what I could from my time away, what I found there.