The Secret Cabin

Tyler Currie, Thurmont, Md.

Two summers ago, on a whim, I stepped off a familiar foot trail and climbed up an embankment deep in the forest. At the top I found a decrepit little shack among the trees.

It was a minor miracle that I had never before stumbled across this sorry hovel. For more than 20 years, I’ve been tromping through this part of the Catoctin Mountains, 60 miles northwest of Washington, not far from Camp David, the presidential retreat.

Maybe it’s a whiskey still, I thought. I moved in for a closer look. A weather-beaten lawn chair lay collapsed in the dirt, next to a fire pit where bits of char clung to a metal grill. Three rocks formed crude steps leading up to the shack’s latched door. I wondered if anyone was home.

“Hello,” I called out.

I pushed open the wooden door. The air inside reeked of rodent excrement. A gun rack hung from a pair of bent nails. Pots and pans littered the floor next to a cast iron stove. A hammer, a saw, a box of nails, and a spool of galvanized steel wire were splayed on a rickety, hand-crafted table. Behind the table, I found a composition book whose spine had been nibbled and gnawed, presumably by mice.

Curious, I opened the book and started to read. From an entry marked December 31, 2001, 11:15 P.M.: “As I write the stove emits a steady purr as it consumes load upon load of wood. I believe I have fed it ½ cord this evening, as I battle the 15 degree brisk air outside. Ahh, the cabin in winter… I think I’ll climb up the mountain behind the cabin—the moon is incredibly bright due to its nearness from the winter solstice. And the forest is bathed in its white light.” The writer signs his name as Gold River Rat.

Another writer—Chuckbuster he calls himself—scribbles an entry on February 10, 2001. “Well, it’s been over two years since I’ve been here and everything mostly looks good. A few repairs are in order but the [cabin] still holds the magic.”

Reading on, I learned that the cabin has existed at least since 1982, giving respite to people who identify themselves in the logbook by handles like Deer Slayer, Catoctin Nomad, Hobbit, and Standing Bear. Many of their entries, spanning more than a decade, fret about the future of this Shangri-La. The cabin sits on a vast tract of private land, and in one entry Gold River Rat worries that the landowners “could realize a considerable profit if they were to sell building lots and develop them.”

The people of the logbook, it seems, are strangers even to each other, bonded only by a taste for solitude and an unlikely discovery in the forest. Now I had joined their fraternity.

Before leaving I took to heart the September 26, 1998 admonishment of someone called Four Arrows: “If you read this entry please maintain the cabin when you have a moment and above all else do not tell others of its location.” I tidied up as best I could and secured the latch on my way out, resolved to let the secret abide.

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