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The Hermitage

More fixing on my upper cabin, and with that comes hanging its name on a sign. I love that upper cabin. It has no water, no outhouse, and as of now, no heat. I love this little cabin! It has a dangerous oil barrel for a stove sitting directly on the wood floor with single-wall stove piping.Original wood stove and grimmy floor I’m about to change that part. I bought a used tiny Jotul and the seller threw in a whole bunch of double and triple wall pipe. Problem now is that the steep rough dirt road to the cabin is full of snow. So I’ll be waiting a few more weeks to get it up there.

The great thing about that cabin is how secluded it is; how primitive it is. Its where the forest sings its most intimate songs because nobody’s around to hear them.View from side. The forest sings.

When I first looked at this property, for all of 1/2 hour, the realtor showed me the upper cabin and told me it was built originally as a hunting cabin because the elk passed through there. Its true the elk are up there in the winter. But it wasn’t true that it was built for hunting. The previous owners simply used it to store junk. It wasn’t until 2 summers ago that I found out its true origin.

The original owner of my cabin, Doc Firor, began coming up here as a ‘dude’ to the ranch across the street. In fact, many of the long time residents started coming here to Ali Ritterbrown’s dude ranch. That was in the 30’s, when the main road was dirt.

Doc Firor was the head surgeon at Johns Hopkins in Maryland. After coming to the dude ranch a few times and falling in love with the mountains, he bought this property, which at that time was several hundred acres. There were no buildings on the property yet, and although he’d stay at the ranch when he came out, he wanted a retreat getaway. So he built the one room cabin in 1957, several years before he built the larger cabin, and he’d retreat there in the afternoons, away from the dudes.

When I finally closed escrow on my property it was December. I stayed in the main house a few nights. It was the first time I’d been here for more than an hour. I had planned to stay a week, but that was cut short to 2 days because of a family emergency. Lucky for me too, because I didn’t realize how un-winterized the place was. The water pump didn’t work so I had no hot water, and barely any cold. All the windows were single-paned and leaky. The propane heater didn’t work and the house never got above 50 degrees even with the wood stove. It was –10 degrees outside. I slept on a mousey couch by the fireplace.

The previous owners who’d lived here since the 80’s had left all their stuff—part of the deal when you buy a cabin in the sticks. You could feel they’d had wonderful, memorable times here, full of family and friends on summer vacations. In going through what was left, I found photos, stories, board games, an ice cream maker, an inflatable raft, fishing gear, books on mule care, an outdoor BBQ, and a fire pit under the stars.  All expressions of good times and warmth.

But the original owners’, the Firor’s, I knew nothing about. That first night on the creaky couch I had a powerful dream with religious symbols of the Pope and a grizzled graying man praying fervently. I awoke a bit perplexed. I am not religious and the dream, although powerful, had little meaning to me.   But it soon became quite clear when that afternoon my neighbors invited me over and told me about their friend, Doc Firor, and what a religious man he had been. He spent a lot of time in the upper cabin, studying the Bible, my neighbors said. At times he even gave the sermon at the Sunday church gatherings. The first night at my new cabin was a kind of ‘visitation’ from the ethereal leftovers of Doc Firor’s presence.'Doc' & Mrs.

When I came back in the spring of that year, I found myself spending many afternoons at the upper cabin, taking my computer up there and writing. I had to agree with ‘ole Doc—-it’s a special spot. I decided to restore its’ spirit and began by cleaning out the junk left by the previous owners. I filled several pick-up loads with old siding, pipe, junky furniture, you name it. I rented a sander and a generator and restored the wood floor, which was full of sticky residues. I found a forest service bunk bed for guests to sleep in. Now I’m looking for book cases,  and soon I’ll replace the stove and install a proper fireproof floorboard under it. But I still didn’t know Doc Firor’s complete story until his son, Tom, now in his 70’s, paid me an unexpected visit from his Vermont home two summers ago.My refinished floors and new rug

I am not religious nor raised Christian. But I do have a background and interest in spirituality and am well-read in most religious traditions. Many years ago I had a special interest in a very famous and well-known Indian spiritual teacher named Ramana Maharshi. He lived in South India during the first half of the 20th century. I particularly remember being very influenced by a book of reminiscences written by Arthur Osborne. He related his impressions of Ramana and the life at the Ashram when he was there in the 1930’s. Anyone traveling to South India in the 1930’s would surely have heard of the great teacher, Ramana Maharshi, as he was well-known and quite revered.Classic photo of the great sage, Ramana Maharshi

Tom told me his father and mother walked every day to the upper cabin. His dad called it his ‘ashram’. I asked Tom where his father heard that Indian term. After all, Firor was a devout Christian, not a Hindu. Tom told me his father was a missionary doctor for a year in South India in 1936. That his time there was very important to him and shaped him a lot. He took from it the word ‘ashram’, which means a place of spiritual retreat, a hermitage traditionally in the forest.

I couldn’t imagine Doc Firor living in South India in 1936, a relatively sparsely populated region of India, and not going to Tiruvannamalai to see the great Master. By 1936 the world was beginning to hear about Ramana. Already by then some very famous people had come to see him.   It was a strange and unexpected connection that I had with this particular property and its history.

A little side piece to this is that one day the neighbors who bought the Ritterbrowns Dude Ranch came over.  They asked me about my upper cabin and how it was doing.  They already knew the story.  “We have our own Ashram, you know”, they told me.  “It’s a little cabin up in the back of our property with a library.”  Apparently, the Doc had popularized the Hindu word around here.

This winter I found a nice piece of wood from the forest and began burning a sign. Its simple, but a way to honor Doc Warfield Firor’s relationship with this place, as well as my own.  I’ll be hanging it at the door of the small cabin as soon as the snows melt a bit.  New sign