Ross Mackenzie

Floating the new water(less) closet — an outhouse, actually a porta-potty for stationary use — across the river and wrestling it up the 15-foot bank, the inquiring mind understandably asks: Why?

The answer is at once simple and complex.

The simple part goes to the addressing of bodily demands. The complex part goes to inner salvation.

At the remote Northwoods cabin acquired just out of college, the river on whose bank it sits serves as a moat against the life Ortega y Gasset noted “is fired at us point blank.” The first mandate upon arrival, even before sweeping out the deceased mice and settling in, is to take off one’s watch — an act akin to pulling up the drawbridge.

The cabin lies 10 miles from the nearest neighbor. It boasts only cross-river access. Because it lacks electric power, there is no television — hence no easy way to follow either the Olympics in the world’s largest Potemkin Village, or the Democratic hallelujah chorus in Denver. All of which, this year, greatly added to its magnetic tug.

And of course there is no running water, rendering the new outhouse a necessity.

Even without the Denver ochlocrats and the Chinese kakistocrats trying vainly to validate themselves, the cabin and its environs offer nothing any man can hope to possess — and nothing to do except find one’s place in the natural scheme of things. Rather, it constitutes an island of silence in the vast frenetic sea.

Joe Biden shares with Julius Caesar and other smug sophisticates a fear and distrust of people who think too much. (Biden has said as much to many, notably to a future U.N. ambassador: “My problem with you is you’re too competent. I would rather you be stupid and not very effective.”)

The cabin represents a solitary milieu for the reflection and thinking that are, these days, neglected arts. Too often today’s culture nurtures a prejudice against creative procrastination. Too often it holds that thinking is sloth, that anyone who goes somewhere just to sit and think needs counseling and group therapy. James Thurber wrote of the difficulty he had convincing his wife he was working when he was looking out the window.

Sitting amid vast reaches of silence, the cabin redefines quiet.

Noise can jam our surveillance system, our ability to monitor our environment, to hear . . .

The snort of a deer, the exhale of a bear, the throaty squawk of an eagle soaring. The quick-burble flare of a trout, the muffled stroke of a paddle and its drip-drip-drip in recovery. A multi-octave owl quartet or the wing-riffle of a whip-poor-will. A red squirrel’s chatter. A porcupine gnawing a birch at the river’s edge. Hemlocks and aspens soughing in the merest breeze.


Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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