When I was little, we had a cabin. My grandma Donna actually had a cabin, and we got to use it. We would all pile into the old, fake wood-paneled station wagon and start what seemed like the endless drive up to the Laguna mountains (it was really only about an hour). I got carsick almost every time. There were winding, bumpy, dirt roads for the last part of the drive, and a big cloud of dust would follow the car. When we finally pulled into the driveway and parked, it seemed unnaturally quiet after the commotion of the car.
The big pines on either side of the front porch were what we called "vanilla pines". I'm sure that isn't the scientific name, but when I put my face to the bark, it smelled like vanilla ice cream. The bark was like a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, with intricate curly pieces paving the trunk. Every once in a while we would hear a woodpecker with a bright red head tapping those trunks for bugs.
The building itself was stone set in cement, with a broad cement porch. When we went inside, it was always very dusty. There was a huge wagon wheel chandelier in the center of the living area, an old couch (was it a hide-a-bed?), a long trestle table with benches to eat at, and a huge fireplace which was also the only source of heat for the building. It got very cold at night. There was a loft halfway across the main floor where all of the beds were. All of the mattresses were covered with plastic sheets, and we slept on them in our sleeping bags. You went upstairs with a pine branch railing, and the branch railing lined the edge of the loft so kids wouldn't fall off. There was a bathroom on the main floor, and I still remember running in when we first got to the cabin one time and finding a mouse drowned in the toilet bowl. There were always mouse droppings all over the place. The first job when we got there was always to clean a bit.
But then the fun started. There were toads that hopped all over the front yard to catch. There almost always was one hiding in the box with the water meters. There was a huge tree swing that my dad would push us on until we were old enough to "pump" with our own legs.
At night there were bats swooping into the porch light snatching the bugs that swarmed there. Sometimes there was a bat or two inside the cabin. Although I remember being nervous, I don't remember being scared. I love bats now.
On the way home, if the stars aligned, my dad would stop at a store in Laguna. I don't know now if it was the ranger station too, or just a gift shop. I remember a wooden bench in front that hundreds of people had carved their names on, and my mom told me I couldn't carve mine, although I had a huge folding camping knife my dad had given me with its own fork and spoon! There was also a wooden Indian in front of the building which was fascinating. My dad would buy us each a Martinelli's apple cider in individual bottles that were shaped like apples. Also fascinating.
The drive home was anticlimactic, and was tinged by carsickness. I always got sick when I read in the car, but it didn't always stop me, and I often made myself sick because I couldn't wait for my book until I was home. I'd like to say it was just the twisty roads that made me sick, but it was often self-destructive behavior.
I wish I had a cabin to take my kids to.