Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Three Little Orleans Log Book Entries

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) ( is a volunteer organization that has existed, I believe, since the 1930s and has responsibility for maintaining the Appalachian Trail (AT) and other blue-blazed trails in the Virginia-Maryland area.  I have been a member for at least 20 years, even if I regret to report that I’m what you would call only a “cabin member.”  You see, PATC also maintains a network of cabins ranging from primitive hike-in cabins to a Victorian house in Harper's Ferry, WV, and many of them are open only to members.  I’ve stayed at a number PATC cabins through the years, but the one that has come to occupy a special place in my life is in Little Orleans (LO), MD, just off the C&O Canal to the west of Hancock.  It’s an in-between cabin in that it has electricity and running water but has an outdoor privy as a toilet.  There’s no Internet and no cell phone coverage.  I have spent several critical days of my life here, in particular a week in April 2004 just before I joined the Foreign Service and another in 2007 when I was first grappling seriously with the question of divorce that would lead to my fourth and finally successful transition attempt just a few years later.  

Those weeks of seclusion and “coming to terms” with key life changes mingle with joyous memories of being here with my son for the Leonid meteors in 1999 . . . or was it in 2000?  I was here again just last June when I was coming to the conclusion that I must resign from the Foreign Service.  I used my quiet time here to finish my letter of resignation, a letter that, thanks to several close FSO friends, I did not have to send.  Now with less than a year to go until my mandatory retirement date, I plan to come back to LO several times.  I was just here for the Columbus Day weekend, and I used the opportunity to look back at old log books (always a favorite pastime at LO), copy out my log  entries going back to 2014, and contemplate the unexpected paths that my life has taken in just these past four years.

August 15-16, 2014

I arrived at 6pm for just a one night stay at Little Orleans, my favorite PATC cabin.  I was taken aback by the imposing new gate at the road until I realized it was not locked.  I was also surprised by the padlock on the LO gate itself.  Has vandalism become a problem in the area?

The cabin is in the same perfect condition as always.  There have been some good upgrades such as the grill since my last visit.  I rather miss the stars on the ceiling of the sleeping loft, but I imagine re-paining is one of those «musts» through the years.  The kitchen range, which I remember when it was brand new, now looks old.

Yes, I’ve been coming to LO for a long time.  I believe my first visit was around 1996.  I will never forget being here with my son and others from his boy scout troop to stay up all night and watch the Leonid meteors in 1999.  Or was it in 2000?

I had rather hoped to read our log entries from those earlier visits, but I gather the older log books have been removed for safe keeping.  Mine is the first entry, however, in log book 9 from August 22-28, 2007.  Unfortunately, all I write about there is how I cleaned and painted the privy.  (I remember C contacting me afterward to say thank you.)

This may be my last visit to LO.  I work for the State Department Foreign Service and am about to head overseas.  Nearing retirement age, I do not expect to live in the Washington, DC, area again.

LO occupies a special place in my life, and it inspired me to build an LO of my own in the lake region of Maine. (In fact, that’s where I’m headed now on the road less traveled.)  LO has been my retreat, a refuge where I was able to grapple and come to terms with the issues of my life.  I am a much happier and, I hope, a better person for the decisions I made during past visits.  My return for this one night was in joy and in memory of those past visits.  I give great thanks to C and all the overseer family for making Little Orleans the beautiful refuge that it is.

Robyn Ann McCutcheon

PS – Filled hummingbird feeders and put out bird seed.  Borrowed one book, Woodswoman, but will return by mail to PATC.  (FWIW, I'm the one who left the Garrison Keilor tapes some fifteen or so years ago!)

August 19-20, 2016

Never say never.  On August 15-16, 2014, I wrote in log book #10 that “this may be my last visit to LO.”  I was on the eve of a 3-year assignment to Kazakhstan and did not expect to come this way again.

Well, here I am, this time with a young Kazakh friend who is visiting the US for the first time.  I’m on my annual R&R vacation.  We departed Astana early on the 19th, transited through Frankfurt, landed at Dulles, and came straight here.  We’re in LO for just the one night, but what a beautiful way to come home before moving on to the big city.  We just spend the day walking on the towpath and lying on the hammock, resting and enjoying the peace after a day in airplanes.

Only thing to report is that the cabin had a very musty smell when we arrived.  Things improved after we opened all the windows and turned on fans, but a bad smell lingers in the kitchen.  Perhaps there’s a dead mouse underneath?

Onward!  I have one more year left in Kazakhstan.  LO may see me yet again.

Robyn McCutcheon

June 10-13, 2018

To jump right to the practical side of things, I arrived Sunday afternoon to find Little Orleans in as beautiful, immaculate shape as I remember from my first visit some 22 years ago.  BUT:  Something has happened with the water supply.  In both the kitchen and wash room, the water flows only at a trickle at best and 95% of the time not at all.  My suspicion is that the well pump (submersible?) has died.  This must be very recent, as dishes in the dish drainer left by the previous renters were not yet dry, and the dish clothes were still damp.  Given the amount of rain we are having, it can’t be that the well has gone dry.  So much for my hopes for a good shower.  I’m filling every pot and bowl with that water that does sometimes flow from the tap and will be washing dishes (and myself!) as I would on a camping trip.  I’ll call PATC as soon as I leave and have cell reception.

Which brings me to the delight of being here again in LO:  no cell reception and no Internet.  PATC should begin listing these as positive amenities for those of us who come to LO in search of retreat, a place just to be and find peace both in nature and, through nature, in oneself.  On this visit I may not even turn on the recorded music on my phone or the music system in the living room.  Sitting on the porch and listening to the sounds of the birds, insects, and falling rain is sound enough.

If the rain continues – (I write on Monday morning) – sitting on the porch may be all that I do.  I came equipped for biking and day hiking, but the quiet is what I really came for this time.

For anyone who looks back at my log entry from August 2016, I am pleased to say that my young Kazakhstani friend NN has gone far in improving her English, has started graduate school, and may go for a semester of study in Poland this fall.

If you look further back to my log entry from August 2014, you will know I am a Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State.  So why am I at LO on a Monday morning rather than being hard at work in Foggy Bottom?  I’m here to decide if the time has come for me to resign.  I have only a year to go until my mandatory retirement age, but too many circumstances and political changes have piled up.  Even taking a financial hit by leaving early, I may be at greater peace with myself if I go.

And so to J, C (to whom I owe a long-delayed letter), and all the LO overseers, thank you for the love, care, and labor that you put in to make Little Orleans such a special spot where we can be at one with ourselves and find peace

Robyn Ann McCutcheon

PS — Rain over and sunny weather on Tuesday.  Rode bike up Oldtown-Orleans Road to the Lookout.  Had forgotten just how steep the hills are here.

The water situation has improved a bit.  I went to the well and could hear that the pump is working just fine.  The «but» is why.  None of the faucets in the cabin were open.  As an experiment, I turned the pump off at the breaker box (breaker Nos. 8/10) when I left for my bike ride.  When I returned 3-4 hours later, I turned the pump back on.  Eureka, I had good water pressure!  What joy it was to take a shower and wash my hair.  The water didn’t fail again until I was rinsing off.

I have a two part theory.  First, I suspect the previous renters had all taken showers just before leaving.  (The shower area was still wet.)  Second, there may be an underground break in the water line somewhere such that the pump is working even when no water is being used in the cabin.

The moral and the workaround?  CONSERVE WATER.  Believe the signs telling us to conserve.  Second – but pending concurrence from the overseers – turn off the water pump using breakers Nos. 8/10 when going out for the day to allow the well to fill.

With this I end my three page novella.  I have an appointment with the hammock.