“Everything is a once in a lifetime experience.”
One of the most heard phrases of my childhood was, “Be safe and don’t do anything dangerous.” My mom always said that, as I was heading up to my aunt and uncle’s cabin with my grandmother, a few weeks before my mom and dad and my sister would join us.
The cabin was my favorite place on earth, 7 miles up the mountain from Lake Tahoe, with nothing around it but what God put there–pine trees, mountains, lakes and streams, and granite cliffs as large as tall buildings.
My aunt and uncle were adventurers of the first order, living year-round in a beautiful log cabin at 8450 feet. Often there was so much snow in the winter that the only thing showing of the cabin were the roof eaves and the chimney. During such times, they often took their kids to school in a Sno-Cat.
As I look at the above summer photo, taken by Aunt Janice, I realize that my mom actually had good reason to worry. We often did wildly dangerous things, though they didn’t seem so at the time. Upon closer look, there’s not much danger to us in our PJs in the foreground, though you might say there is to my cousin Mike in the background. Mike seems to be holding a Roman Candle firework that was likely intended to be in a stand rather than hand-held. I recall that Mike lit off quite a few fireworks that night, with the national forest in the background and the grownups somewhere in the living room with the rest of us.
Of course, Mike was older, about fourteen in this picture, so he was allowed to do quite a few more things than the rest of us; such as, drive us on the dirt roads all over the place, around the cabin, with 10 kids in the back of the 1929 Model A pickup truck.
We spent many summer days out on the lake, fishing in rowboats, with no life preserver; or, in winter, jumping off the roof, into the snow bank up to our necks.
We often went “stump hunting” in the summer, which was our particular term for looking for firewood across the old highway. We rarely found any actual pieces of firewood on the ground. Uncle Gordon had a box of dynamite and would place a stick under an old tree stump, add the blasting cap and long fuse. We hid behind trees a hundred yards away and knew when the fuse was lit, as he came running for cover.
We ran out and gathered the pieces of stump, strewn about in a 30 to 40-foot radius, often clear on the other side of the tall trees from where they originated.
We rode our mini-bikes wherever we could find a path, or not, no helmet required back then. Heck, there were no seatbelts in most cars or school buses either.
Then, there was the mountain behind the cabin that provided us with local skiing each year. Uncle Gordon built his own rope tow up the mountain, so there were often just 10 or fewer of us skiing over the untracked snow. Sometimes, in big winters, there was so much snow that there was danger of an avalanche. No problem, Uncle Gordon had learned how to “shoot the avalanche,” with multiple small rockets. Yes, they were actual rockets about 2 feet long, with little wings on the tail and a pointy front. They made quite a boom as they hit the top of the mountain a mile or so away, where the avalanche began its roll.
Then, there was the time we were snowed in for two weeks. When it finally stopped snowing, the highway was closed, and remained so for more than 30 days. We couldn’t all ride in the Sno-Cat so we had to walk out 11 miles. It took us 11 or 12 hours into the night, because there was no road to be seen. After quite a few of those hours my sister Mary Ellen, who was about 11 at the time asked, “Uncle Gordon, are we lost?” When we at last arrived at the Glover’s house, about half-way down the mountain we were pretty frozen. We spent an hour or so tightly packed in front of the fireplace, thawing out with cups of steaming hot chocolate clasped in our hands.
It was all wonderful to me. Somehow, we survived, our joyful if sometimes dangerous, adventures up at the cabin. I owe many of my once-in-a-lifetime experiences to Aunt Janice and Uncle Gordon.
So, Happy Fourth of July to you and yours, be safe and remember not to do anything dangerous.
Photo Credit: Janice MacLean