Our gift to all who enter

It is just a small place in the forested back of the farm, a cedar-shingled, post-and-beam hut that Charlie built in the autumn of 1998 with well-weathered recycled lumber. It might have been whittled or sculpted from the trees, so perfectly is it nestled in its tiny clearing. But for the windows, you could walk right past without realizing it was even there.

The windows, of course, are a part of its reason for being. The hut's only arresting external feature, they offer from within three views down a deep, sun-dappled ravine, each an invitation to serene meditation. We conceived of the hut as a place to rest from our labor and cares, a space in which to renew our spirits.

Though sited on the private land of our farm, the retreat lies within an easy hike of a popular city park and nature preserve, with nothing in the woods to alert hikers where the public domain ends and ours begins.

We considered this as Charlie finished the hut and installed its sparse furnishings - a hand-crafted writing table, a few mule-eared chairs, and a tiny woodstove from an Irish ironworks that seems to have been destined for this distant place. Should we put all this under lock and key? Would vandalism or rough use threaten our little sanctuary?

We decided that most folks wandering into our woods weren't likely to pose this threat, so instead of a lock, Charlie posted a welcome, inviting visitors in. "Please use hut as if it's yours, for rest and for listening to sounds of the forest. But leave it as is for others to enjoy."

We soon discovered that visitors did stop in, and that they did not leave the hut as they found it. Someone used the scrap planks to make a step to the door. A dry pile of kindling materialized beside the wee woodstove. Books and poems, sketches and riddles appeared on the writing table. Someone left us the gift of a handmade flute.

As 1998 came to a close and 1999 unfolded, friends and strangers filled up the writing pad, many to praise the aura and the view, others to remark on the wallpaper, a collage of newsprint from decades-old local papers. Some chronicled the sheer surprise of their discovery.

March 6, 1999: I stumbled onto the cabin while I was spending some time alone in the forest. At first I didn't know what to think, so I just looked in the windows. After I came in I was so pleased to read the notepad. If I am ever to return, I will always treat this cabin as my own home. - Benjamin

March 28, 1999: I came by this cabin and at first was very bewildered. Looked in the windows and took the risk of opening the door.... Thanks for the wonderful memories. - Wade the Wandering Nomad.

Six-year-old Katherine, who lives on an adjoining 40 acres, is an occasional visitor on walks with her father, and leaves short bursts of vivid prose: Enjoyed the cabin and left a Tootsie Roll. And it's a big one.

One spring day brought an anonymous group of visitors, one of whom wrote simply: 4 friends, 5 dogs, incredible, thanks.

Early in June, an unknown (to us) poet named Jack, who had often graced the pad before, summed up his visit with a haiku:

Day of silk light falling

How can I not be content?

Roof above my head

In August, another hut-user penned, All the money in the world couldn't buy your cabin.

In September, Katherine returned with her dad on a mission: I swept the room. It could really use some cleaning.

October began with an entry from my teenage son: This place always makes me feel so safe and warm ... to see the trees all around. Saw a coyote today. Love this desk.

On one of my own visits to the hut, I see through the window a Carolina wren fluttering inside, having found a way in, but not out. My opening the door momentarily panics the bird, but its flight to freedom is swift and thrilling.

On Dec. 9, Josh, a hiker, finds the hut on a walk with his dog and marvels, Not many folks are as trusting as you.

The answer to that came near the end of the year, as the winter's first decent snow fell. Charlie walked back to the hut and built a fire, which he replenished and stoked for the next visitor before leaving his own words on the pad: The hut has been here more than a year, and it seems to draw people who are looking for peace. As we go into the next century, may this hold true.

And so it has done. As winter, and the new year unfold, the leaves of a new notepad have begun to fill with musings, poetry, and appreciative prose.

Today, with spring in the air, Charlie and I visited the hut, which has only improved with such gentle use. As we rested, we heard the high, wild warblings of sandhill cranes journeying north. We stepped out to watch as the flock came into view, and inexplicably began to circle above our small, shingled roof - once, twice, three times, and more.

Could there be any plainer sign that protective forces stronger than locks are at work here? That we needn't fear for the place that is no longer ours alone?

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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