Friday, May 19, 2006

Remnants Of a Past Life

Along the banks of the Buffalo River, there stands an old cabin that I have visited many times over the past twenty years. Its weathered boards are still fairly sound on the main floor but I haven't tempted fate by climbing the stairs to the second floor for perhaps a decade. During my initial visits, there could still be found some remnants of a past life here and there but the increasing numbers of people hiking past has mostly taken those. Unlike other abandoned cabins of the Ozark Mountains, this one is fairly well known.

An old woman had lived there continuously since 1912 and spent the last 23 years of her time on the 166 acres of river bottomland, alone after her husband passed away. She lived without electricity, telephones or plumbing but found ample comforts in raising her few livestock or tending to her large orchard and garden. But in order to preserve one of the best wonders in the Midwest against certain destruction by damns, a national park was created around the wild and scenic designated Buffalo River and her land was needed. The government bought her out and she was given a date upon which she had to be moved out.

Some say the stress of moving and as she put it, "...givin' up all I've got, all I've ever had," was too much for her. She moved out in late February of 1979 and two days later was hospitalized with a small red pimple on her forehead that had been there for 40 years which had turned into a malignant tumor. After she was released from the hospital, she would live another five months and then was gone though her cabin still stands as a reminder of the past.

Perhaps only a half-mile away, stood another cabin off the trail and out of sight. I only discovered it by chance when I was pioneering a short cut by bushwhacking down the side of a bluff. It is the same age as the other cabin but has experienced a totally different fate. Where the first cabin receives a lot of visitors, the other one doesn't other than myself and perhaps the occasional deer hunter walking through the area. By the time I discovered it, the floors had fallen in but you could still walk around inside and sort through numerous remnants of a past life. The walls had been "wallpapered" with newspaper from the early 1900's and made for interesting reading. Old tools, rusty and frozen, teased the brain as I tried to decipher their use. To my knowledge, no history has been written about the previous occupants and so I have only my imagination to fill in the blank pages.

After ten years of visiting this cabin, the roof finally caved in, meeting with the floor joists and preventing entry. Another decade would collapse the walls on top of the roof, leaving behind a pile of boards and rusty tin that is quickly being swallowed by the forest around it. The old root cellar has collapsed and is almost silted full. All other traces of building have long since disappeared. Soon, even the last traces of cabin will have rotted away and the tin will be buried under vegetation.

The Ozark Mountains are full of these abandoned cabins along old roads that are indistinguishable from the surroundings except for a level bench on naturally sloping mountainsides. Trees some thirty years old now fill the roads where small engined trucks used to grind up the steep switchbacks in reverse. In areas, erosion has wiped the slate clean, leaving no traces behind for hundreds of yards. I have often dreamt that if time travel becomes possible, the first place I would visit would be this area of the Ozark Mountains around early 1900's when they were vibrant and full of life. Back before all that remained were remnants of a past life

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