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Cabin in the Woods

Louise Ruddle Talbot and David Talbot go all Thoreau


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Maybe there's an instinct that compels us toward the wild, even as our daily lives become more domesticated. Or, maybe amid the technological blur of modern America, it is an urge toward an "authentic life." In either case, contemporary readers will find much to admire in "The Cabin: A Tandem Memoir of Life in the Wild," co-written by Louise Ruddle Talbot and her son, David. In this fascinating portrait of primitive life on a Southern Oregon homestead, the narrative is split between the authors. Louise's accounts are derived from her journal entries, covering the summers between 1933 and 1934, when she was transplanted from her urbane, Californian upbringing and into the mountainous wilderness with two small children in tow. Her son David's perspective, compiled from his experience as an 11-year old explorer, having returned to the cabin following his mother's diagnosis of ovarian cancer, begins in 1944. Throughout, both mother and son offer insight to a world torn by economic uncertainty, world war, and the struggle to keep their family together; their stories are woven together to embody the particular respite they both felt during their time in the family's remote cabin.

"Have you ever been transplanted?," she writes. "I suppose that if a classification is made, I would be the hothouse variety. Imagine such a breed being torn from its sheltered setting and dropped, defenseless, into the open wilderness. Such is the manner of my uprooting. From the city's hectic jazz to a wilderness where the rhythm is a stately paced minuet."

With her lipstick and cigarettes, Louise was not the typical mountain woman. Having always aspired to write, her reflections on cabin life are so relatable and drawn so elegantly, it's easy to bridge the 80-year gap. Her entries are often lyrical, and peppered with philosophical musings and poetic asides.

"During those years spent in the mountains, I looked within myself," she continued. "I found that my mind was stuffed with ideas that needed scrapping, like old papers gathered over a period of years."

Within these descriptions, the young mother discovers the wondrous beauty of a simple life.

Her son David, whose early experiences at the cabin certainly influenced his later career as the longest serving director of the Oregon State Parks (1964-1992), chronicles his 11th summer at the cabin, where he and his brother spent long hours exploring the forest, fishing gin-clear streams, and searching for elusive strawberries. What we would call "off the grid living" today was simply the art of survival for the Talbot boys, whose daily chores included hauling and splitting firewood, keeping the stream-fed water flume clear of debris, and driving skunks out of the henhouse. This magical year and its unbridled freedom would stay with David for years to come; "I had forged bonds with trees, the creeks, the terrain, and my mind smoothed the hard edges of subsistence there to create a memory as constant and warm as the fires we dutifully tended," he elegantly writes.

David Talbot: Know Wilderness Series

6 pm, Tues., Sept. 9

Downtown Bend Library, 601 NW Wall St.


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