|My First love for Big Santa Anita
Canyon began when I was 23 years old. I remember walking the trail into
the cabin that was owned by my fiancé's parents. The hike was so
enlightening to a city girl like me who's never ventured far from the California
life style. The landscape in the canyon seemed like a whole new world.
My fiancé, Ernie, and I were planning to be married in a year so we diligently saved all our money to pay for our wedding. But with the expenses of a honeymoon too, we knew we couldn't afford it. After we were married, my creative new husband suggested that we go to his parents' cabin again for a romantic get away. I was thrilled knowing we were going back to the seclusion of the forest. We crammed our backpacks with enough supplies to hold us for two days and off we went.
Upon arriving I was stunned by the condition of the cabin which I did not notice the previous year. However, this time I took special notice as simply walking on the front porch took some talent. The porch was all rotted out. If you weren't careful you could fall through and possibly break a leg, which is a very undesirable thing to do unless you liked being rescued. I overlooked the flaw in the porch and decided to still occupy the structure.
I stood near my newly handsome husband while he took the key out for the cabin. When I noticed the grin on his face it gave me hopes of perhaps being carried across the threshold, however, with my heavy pack and boots on I guess that didn't seem desirable to him. We entered into our honeymoon suite, which didn't look too bad at first. There was a built in kitchen nook that converted into a full size bed. The little kitchen also had a beautiful potbelly stove. Everything inside the cabin was painted this awful gunmetal green which my father-in-law acquired the paint from a left over job. The only other room to the cabin was a very small bedroom. There were three tiered bunk beds on each side of the room and the room was filled with supplies for the cabin. It was obvious we wouldn't be occupying that room so I quickly pulled the curtain closed to separate the two rooms. I vowed not to enter that dark dirty room again as it gave me the creepy crawlers.
We unloaded our supplies and decided to explore the canyon. We first stopped at the nearby cabin owned by the Owens. They congratulated us on our pre-nuptials and gave us the tour of their adorable cabin. This was very inspiring to me to see a cabin in immaculate condition. They were extremely nice folks. We then visited the Conway’s cabin, which was owned by a much older man. I was told he has lived in the canyon for a great deal of time and that he's part of the history of the canyon. We then hiked to Sturtevant's falls, which was roaring from the plentiful rainfall that we had that year. As we stayed near the falls watching the water cascading down in gallons we enjoyed a fine spray that was hitting our faces. The air was very hot so the mist provided an out door like air conditioning for free. After a while we headed back to the cabin.
It took me awhile to adapt to the little cabin, as I was deathly afraid of bugs. This place had more bugs than its fair share. After getting settled, I needed to answer to a call of nature. Ernie handed me the key to the outhouse that was located up a steep embankment behind the cabin. Okay I thought I could manage that, so off I went. Out the back door and up the hill I passed a swing that was attached to a big oak tree. The steps to the outhouse had diminished due to erosion so the climb was very steep. The outhouse was about 80 years old and it looked it too. I unlocked the wooden door carefully keeping my feet planted to the slope. The structure, although rotted was level. It was dark in there and the fear of bugs had me on my wits. The toilet seat and hardware looked like it came off of an antique toilet. Being I'm a sitter and not a stander I had quite the dilemma, but I had to go! I pulled my baggy pant legs down to my knees and attended to my business. Above the door was a finely meshed screen about seven inches high and just the width of the door. As I was sitting there I was very aware of a scratching noise that sent my heart thumping. I looked up and saw a pair of pink veined ears made transparent by the light from the screen. The pink ears then quickly ran down the doorjamb and into my pant legs. I then went running and screaming at the top of my lungs. I stumbling down the steep slope naked from the waist down, which my husband thought was very amusing!
After a while my nerves calmed down with the help from Ernie caressing me who made me feel like a bride again. We made dinner on the little pot bellied stove which tasted great after a long day in the wilderness. We converted the nook into a bed by piling on some sleeping bags. We lay on our backs talking while the lanterns were flickering. I then noticed the shadows on the ceiling. A beam ran across the ceiling in the room located just over our heads. The flickering light made the beam glow softly; it was then I noticed hundreds of BUGS crawling along the edge of that beam. They crossed the beam and down the wall disappearing into a small hole. I thought I made it perfectly clear to my husband that I was having nothing to do with bugs so at that moment I was having second thoughts about this whole thing. He then tried to calm me down by convincing me that we were a lot safer inside the cabin than outside since bears have been sighted. I had no other option but to stay. Ernie told me that the bugs were just passing through and that they were nocturnal and had no intention of falling on our heads. He then quickly feel off to sleep. As for me, I didn't sleep a wink all night. I was so afraid of those bugs that I pulled my sleeping bag up over my head, which made it hard for me to breathe.
The following morning I felt like a zombie but was happy to see the bugs had disappeared. We drank plenty of coffee together and talked about leaving as I then made it perfectly clear that I would not spend another night like that. The caffeine was kicking in which made me feel better so before leaving we decided to explore some more. Ernie first had to clear away the rattlesnake that was near our front porch soaking up rays. As we headed out for another hike I was thinking how this TRULY must be LOVE.
The trees again seemed so spectacular. The red birch trees cascade like skyscrapers in comparison to the trees in the city. There were oak trees, poison oak and fir trees everywhere. This reminded me of pictures that I’d seen in books of the redwoods. That's when I felt a change of heart and felt I could really love this place.
When my husbands parents retired to Canyon Lake, Ca. the added distance made it hard for them to maintain the cabin so they decided to give the cabin to their children. They had seven children; all of whom spent time at the cabin in their younger years, but all were now raising their own families. Ernie and I were their last hopes of restoring what was once their dream. At this time in our life we had a 12 year old son and a 4 year old daughter. Our car was old and our work truck was even worse. We knew the 60 mile commute to the cabin would equally be as difficult for us; however, we accepted their generation handed down gift.
The first few years of ownership were the hardest on us. We not only had our children to raise, but we were also in the beginning stages of our new business. Ernie and I decided we could not work for anyone else so we were brave and opened a cabinetry business. I thought my place was only to be raising children but quickly found out differently. Ernie turned me into a cabinetmaker, which left very little time to work on the cabin. We would drive to the cabin once a month and try to cram in 6 weeks worth of work. We would always come home exhausted. At times we would split up a 96-lb. bag of cement and carry it in our packs. The hike was only two miles from Chantry Flats but it felt more like fifty. The footings under the cabin needed to be redone in order to stabilize the cabin and support the porch. We gathered water and sand from the stream nearby and carried it in buckets up to the cabin. There we would hand mix our own cement for the footings. It took us two years just to finish the footings. When that was finally done we had the pack station haul in plywood that was to be screwed down to the new framing for the porch. When seeing our accomplishment we were thrilled and felt like putting another feather in our cap.
Meanwhile, our business was growing which demanded more of our time. We realized we had to learn new techniques in order to keep up with these demands. I was hesitant as my mother always said: "the more you know the more you do", but Ernie dove right into it and would spend hours in front of the computer learning the new software. These hours then turned into months. He promised that these new techniques would eventually make our life easier so I remained patient and would head off by myself to the cabin.
My trips were limited, as I needed to get back home to prepare dinner for the family, besides, you would not want to sleep in the cabin because it was still a wreck. There were squirrels that filled every nook and cranny in the bedroom. The roof leaked so badly throughout the place that everything had rotted. The mice had chewed the foam mattresses on the bunks and had nested everywhere. There were mice feces all over. The place needed to be completed gutted. I spent many days just bagging up junk to be hauled away. I took the bunk beds apart only to find that under them were large cans of nails. "Twenty cans to be exact". The nails were all rusted from water getting into them. I thought of how hard my father-in-law must of worked hauling all those nails into the cabin. I also thought he must have been nuts! I decided to bury them rather than to haul them out after all I could be just as nutty! To this day I am still afraid to dig holes around the cabin in fear that I might dig up those old nails again.
At one time I hauled 3 one-gallon pails of white paint in my backpack. I remembered how weak my knees felt upon arriving. I would always recover and would do the same thing the following trip. Most all supplies were brought in on my back. I am better known as the Gilbson’s Mule. I have a girlfriend whom once volunteered to help, her name is, Joan. We headed out early in the morning on her first trip. She didn't seem to mind when I stuffed her backpack with some more paint as I think the beauty of the forest tranquilized her. We spent that day painting the bedroom and the bunk beds. By the time we finished we looked as if we had more paint on ourselves than anywhere else. She came back another time when we hauled cement in order to build a rock patio. If you want to see who your true friends are, invite them for a workday. She was a great sport and added a lot of fun to the tasks. After working her nearly to death, I'm very surprised she's still my friend.
Meanwhile, I had bought a second hand sports car with a hatchback. I was able to place about eight 2x4’s boards in the car crosswise. Colleen, my daughter now 9 years old would then squeeze into the passenger seat with the boards taking up most of her space. In the back would be the dog and the red wagon, which we used to haul our supplies for our first over overnight stay. I invited my son; Josh, to come along for provided protection but he wasn't the least interested. As we enjoyed our evening I thought to myself how much all this hard work has paid off to now be able to enjoy a clean cabin. There were a few problems that still remained like the mice were still getting in through the kitchen. Since my daughter didn't have television to watch she decided to entertain herself with front row seating to "The Return of the Mice". She found this "live" performance of mice swinging on the kitchen curtains very entertaining. I dreaded the thought of sleeping with mice so the following weekend I hung doors to close off the two rooms and to keep the mice out.
On one occasion Colleen and I needed more drinking water so we hiked to the East Fork. Colleen decided to stay back while I went down to the stream to fetch the water. I told her to stay put while I was gone but I returned to find her gone. I figured she headed back to the cabin. I became very concerned when she was not there. I then hiked back to the East Fork calling her name. I continued hiking toward the first dam. When I came around to the last cabin I found her. Her eyes were as big as silver dollars that burst into tears when she saw me. While she was sitting on a rock waiting to be found she said she say a Scotty dog come out from under a bush. She claimed this Scotty dog then ate a squirrel right in front of her. I knew it couldn't be a Scotty dog and that it was more than likely a bobcat but I hesitated to tell her.
Years later, Ernie and I built a new outhouse. We put it together in our shop but had to disassemble it in order to haul it. The pack station then carried it in on mules to our cabin. We pushed the old outhouse down the hill hoping it would fall into a million pieces. We then lugged the new one up that steep hill and had a terrible time erecting the structure. The damn thing fell on me, which once again amused Ernie. I seem to have the worst luck around outhouses. I wasn't amazed until it fell on Ernie. What we thought was going to be an hour project turned out to be an all day event. After sheeting it and painting it we once again felt like sticking another feather in our cap.
I have concluded that the cabin will
always need some maintenance and that there will always be some bugs but
there is no greater place to come and recapture the simplicity and beauty
that God has provided.