I only have a few old family photos so imagine my surprise when I found some early tiny influences…
Another important influence was an old army green canvas tent that my grandfather took my mother camping in when she was little, and which we later used on our own adventures. We did a lot of camping when I was growing up. While other kids were forced to go to church on Sundays, I was much happier scrambling around in my own church of nature instead. It was probably on those trips that the natural world and living tiny were inexorably linked for me.
The tent was about 8’x8’ and all four of us and our basset hound slept in it. It had a stout wooden pole up the center, which snapped during a memorable windstorm and nearly skewered us in our sleep. Ever resourceful, Dad duct-taped it together and we were still using it when we loaded up our old International Travelall and camped our way along the beaches and mountains of Baja.
When I was about ten, my parents bought a small one-room cabin along Still Creek on Mt. Hood.
Driving up through the narrow, thickly forested canyon, we’d arrive in the dark and Dad, cursing mightily, would invariably have to trace back along the mysterious plastic pipe that brought our water down from the hillside to find the current source of clog or breakage. Meanwhile, we would try to warm ourselves jumping up and down in front of the ancient wood-fired cooking stove that was the only reliable source of heat.
The one room was divided into a kitchen area and a living room where my parents slept by an enormous fireplace made of river rocks. Mom painted the kitchen cabinets fire engine red, which I thought was totally rad given that this was the 1970s and no one seemed to think beyond burnt orange and avocado green. There was a small storage area off the kitchen that always smelled like moss and fish scales. There was a sleeping loft above for my sister and me and any other kids who came to visit. The bathroom was an outhouse, the scene of a tragic accident involving the loss of my favorite pocketknife.
The cabin was a gathering place for friends and family. Good friends of ours would visit who had a passel of boys. The mother was unperturbed that the youngest, still crawling, snacked from the bowl of dog food. The rest of us would be out exploring the fir and cedar woods, thick with salmonberries, ferns, and tart wood sorrel.
We spent most of our time in the stream, tracing the deep pools and lichen-covered boulders. The cabin was outfitted with several pairs of 1950s-style faded women’s tennis shoes left over from the previous owners. Though horrifyingly girly, we’d don them so we could wade through the rocks and water. On special days, we’d get to take inner tubes down the riffles and still straightaways to a bridge where some poor parent would have to drive down and collect us.
Transform: to change condition, nature or character.
These were powerful times floating free and on our own, butts hanging through the tubes, riding the waves. Then would come the moment of utter panic as something, and then more somethings, huge and slippery passed along our backsides. After the initial shock, it was thrilling in a weird sort of way. You can’t help but be transformed once you’ve tubed down a creek on the backs of spawning salmon.
…the affinity she felt with this particular landscape would have to be put down to an innate recognition of some remote part of herself, of roots that could never be completely dislodged by time or distance. It was one of the miracles of the natural world, she thought, that you could invariably use it to gauge who you really were.
~ Nicola Upson, Two for Sorrow