No running water, no electricity, no phone, no neighbors

Posted: Aug 29, 2004 12:00 AM

On the 11th we awoke to the sort of sudden 42 degrees that drives one deeper under the covers and inspires a lassitude about even getting out of bed. This was, after all, August. Yet somehow the coffee water got turned on, the logs in the wood stove and the propane lights overhead got lit. She reached for her book and I returned to Charles McCarry's latest romp, his marvelous "Old Boys." And thus we spent the morning.

To a youngster, 60 seems as old as Charlemagne. Yet now past that threshold and into the cusp year when one transitions from his early to his mid-60s, 60-plus doesn't seem ancient at all - and never mind that one finds himself in a wilderness log cabin bundled against an August morning, reading. But isn't this the place and time?

In a world where everything is smaller and faster but outcomes are the same, we prepare ceaselessly for later - projects to do, golf to play, people to see, places to visit, books (remember books?) at last to cast their spell. For more than 40 years we have used our cabin as a Rivendell - a safe haven variously for unplugging, recharging, and getting ready to do the things they say one can't.

It sits at the edge of a not particularly distinguished river in a state forest well west and north - and 22 hours of rolling time away. It boasts no running water, no electricity, no phone, and no human neighbors for about 10 miles.

The destination is not an island, but it might as well be - a cabin across the water in a sea of trees. Access is via the river. With the canoe used for transport stored inside, upon arriving and departing one swims. Propane powers most basic household utilities except water; full 200-pound tanks are floated across the river and winched up the bank.

Regular visitors include porcupines, deer, bald eagles and bears. Bobcats and coyotes are not uncommon; wolves are coming back. Some locals swear by an occasional moose.

The people are solid, and stolid against the seemingly endless winter and the monster mosquitoes of spring. To borrow from Frost writing about another place, it's a far land "still unstoried, artless, unenhanced . . . such as it was, such as it would become." It comprises a defined region larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined, but lacking population for a single congressional district without help from a distant hinterland on the other side of a bridge five miles long.

Such isolation and remoteness from society's ignorant vanities and twittering sophistication - from the anguishes of terror, politics, idiocy and incivility - hardly seems possible in crowded contemporary America.

In the afternoon - fire down to embers, books stashed, and the mercury up to 55 - a lazy paddle upstream disclosed here and there a maple and birch dappled with yellows and reds and distinctly paler greens. That evening, from the hammocks, one could hear the nighthawks tuning up and glom the bats showing their considerable stuff over the river. A fingernail of a moon rose in a velvet field of stars.

We retreated from the deepening chill into the cabin and put a match to the logs in the main fireplace.

She returned to her book, I to "Old Boys." The old Lab, almost fully white on the snout, set to snoring in front of the fire. On the wall nearby hung a framed saying displayed there for four decades: Old books to read, old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust.

In mid-August, there, getting cold; in one's mid-60s, getting old. This is later, or the beginning of it. There could be no better place than a Rivendell to recognize it and start enjoying it, and to appreciate anew the two regimens that make a man serious - commitment and solitude.