Roughing It


Ariel and I are in Colorado this week, at our favorite “vacation resort” – really just a collection of small cabins scattered in the woods near Rocky Mountain National Park. This place has been here a while. It was over half a century old when we found it, a quarter century ago. Our regular cabin has three tiny wood-paneled rooms, sturdy but well-used furniture, a fireplace, and several framed photographs on the walls that were already faded when we first saw them. The photographs are of snow-cappped mountains, which you can also see by looking out the windows.

There’s a nice porch and a sunny living room, but I have a special affection for the kitchen. It comes with a mismatched assortment of dishes and cooking utensils, which you wash by hand because there is no dishwasher. The refrigerator quickly freezes the stuff you put near the back, while barely chilling the stuff you put near the door. I don’t think the refrigerator is broken; it just dates from an era when refrigerators did that. There’s an ancient and tiny range, whose burners you must light with a match. Thumbtacked to the wall behind the range is a laminated card with instructions for lighting the burners. The card is there, I realize, for the benefit of anyone even slightly younger than I am. It goes on to say that if you have difficulty lighting the burners you should contact the management. Marty, who runs the place, has told us with his usual long-suffering expression that some people do in fact ask for help. He didn’t say whether they needed help with the knob-turning part or the match-striking part.

There’s no wifi here unless you walk down the road to get closer to the office. Just inside wifi range is a big rock where we sit to check our email in the mornings. This morning the temperature was in the thirties and it was windy, so we didn’t stay long. The cabin does have a vintage 13-inch CRT television, the kind our grandkids once saw and were unable to identify as a TV. (We’ve never watched it much except on one occasion. That was September 11, 2001, when Ariel went down to get some fresh towels from Marty and came running back from the office, ashen-faced.)

In twenty-five years, we’ve spent twenty-five weeks here, washing the dishes, matching wits with the refrigerator, watching the photographs fade some more, and calculating when to put the trash out so the bears won’t get it. Friends or family come with us sometimes, and while they seem to like the place, I’m pretty sure most of them view our devotion to it as a sign of mild insanity. The hiking around here, everyone agrees, is about as good as it gets. The cool summer temperatures, to those of us who come from south Texas, are as addictive as meth. The sheer peace and quiet are a powerful anti-stress medication. But the skeptics have counter-arguments, for example that the world is full of millions of other possible destinations, many of them equipped with modern appliances. That life is furnished with a finite number of vacation opportunities, and we have expended twenty-five of them on the same freaking place.

I think history is on my side. Marty says he has families who’ve been coming here every year for generations. Summer resorts in the Catskills, fishing camps in Minnesota’s Arrowhead, dude ranches out west once were geared for people who returned as an annual tradition. The notion of travel as a race to see as many different places as possible is a more recent development, and maybe not a really sustainable one. I’m happy to adopt it about halfway, which is how I wound up in a Spanish notario’s office in Granada a few years ago (sorry, that’s another story). But I’m hedging my bets. The hiking here in Colorado is about as good as it gets, the temperature is perfect, and the fridge is actually quite useful, once you get used to it.

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