By SUSAN HARLAN
I like to find quiet mountain cabins where I can read and write over the weekends, and I always take my dog Millie. She’s a 60-pound tan dog with pretty eyes. A mutt. I got her at a nearby shelter nine years ago, and now she’s eleven.
A couple of years ago, we started going to a cabin in Virginia, about an hour and a half from my home in central North Carolina. The cabin was built in the 1940s, and it’s a ways down a bumpy dirt road, with no marked street address. There’s a creek on the property and a one-mile trail behind the cabin to the New River.
Millie likes to walk in the creek. I walk with her, and wet leaves wrap themselves around my boots. When the wind blows, it pulls the leaves off the trees, and they fall into the creek. In the branches above are large, black cocoon-like webs. Some fall to the ground, and I try not to step on them because they look important.
I spend the days reading and writing, and Millie keeps me company. I talk to her about things I’m thinking and read her things I’m writing. There is such calm in being with her in a quiet place. The sound of my voice surprises me – and her – if we have been silent for a while. I think she likes the cabin and feels at home there, although she’s wary of the wood stove, with its whistling and cracking. She starts at the sound of butter hitting a hot pan, so she’s easily alarmed.
Sometimes we can hear other animal companions on the cabin’s metal roof – maybe raccoons. Sometimes I wonder if we’ll see a bear, but I don’t think there are many around.
I bring a stack of books with me, but I don’t really read anything cover to cover. I tend to skip around. Some are books that I have read many times before, and some are new.
I set the books on the table on the front porch, and we sit out there, me in an old rocking chair and Millie at my feet. There is a wood pile off to the right and, beyond the porch, trees all around. The edge of the cabin’s roof frames the forest. I read and write in my journal, and if I like anything, I go inside and type it up. But I don’t want to do this too quickly. We like to stay out on the porch.
In the evenings, I mix Manhattans and make dinner, and we see if there is a moon.
Millie lies on the porch, watchful as she always is, but maybe less watchful than usual because there’s little to watch for in a cabin in the woods. Sometimes she barks, the way she does at home when the mailman comes, which is funny as there is no one and nothing around.
Susan Harlan’s work has appeared in venues including The Guardian US, The Paris Review Daily, Guernica, Roads & Kingdoms, The Morning News, Public Books, Curbed, Nowhere, The Awl, Lit Hub, and Atlas Obscura. Her book Luggage was published with the Bloomsbury series Object Lessons in March 2018, and she teaches English at Wake Forest University.