At Home in the Green Cabin
August 31, 2012, Washington, DC: There's a green cabin in the woods just west of Leesburg, Virginia, where tarts bake in a convection oven and jams warm on a hot plate. A morning newspaper sits under a designated rock outside, dropped off by the neighbor. Old hunting targets sprinkle the yard and taxidermy adorns the walls. Inside, a young couple is creating a new home, filling an old cabin with music and words.
Five months ago, Ally Turner Kirkpatrick and her husband Jake were nowhere near this green cabin in the woods. They were in Brooklyn, searching for a home.
I first learned about Ally's retreat to the green cabin through connections made a few weeks ago at the BlogHer conference in New York. She's been writing eloquently about the move from city to country on her blog, The Green Cabin Year, exploring topics like home and community and others aligned with those considered here on Neighborhood Nomads. We decided to meet at the coffee shop around the corner from my apartment (incidentally a place Ally once worked during her many stops en route to the cabin) to discuss our writing projects. Ally told me her story over coffee at Peregrine.
"The plan was in the works for like 24 hours," Ally said. "Our lease was about to expire and we were looking at apartments in Crown Heights. I've always loved gardening and I really wanted to find a place with a little yard, and we have two cats, so I wanted a place that was a little bigger than our other place. But once we started looking at what we would get in Brooklyn, we just said, 'Wait a minute. We're gonna be paying a lot and working a lot to be here, and I'll have my herbs in little terra cotta pots and that's it.' It really was almost overnight. We said, 'Let's just get out of here.'
It's not that New York didn't appeal to the couple, but the reality of life there for the aspiring musician and writers was much more complex.
"I really loved Crown Heights, I loved Brooklyn, I loved the neighborhood, but I wasn't on track for what I wanted to do at all and neither was he. He's a musician and a writer, but he was working as a carpenter, and I was selling designer jewelry and pulling espresso shots. I didn't see any path to how either of us were going to do what we wanted to do."
Fortuitously, Ally and Jake had access to a place that would allow them to pursue their crafts: A hunting cabin built in the 1800s owned by Ally's father, not far from her childhood home in Alexandria, Virginia. The cabin didn't have an address or a kitchen. What it did have was an attic full of squirrels, hunting stains on the floor, chairs upholstered in patterns of elk and bear frolicking by a stream, and antlers, lots of antlers.
"I wanted to get [the chairs] recovered in some kind of pretty plaid or stripes or something," Ally said. 'He said, 'You can live in the cabin, but don't touch my chairs. Don't take down the deer antlers and don't touch my chairs.'"
As hunting season approaches, Ally and Jake have learned to embrace the "Anthropology-rustic-chic" decor and have settled in to this beautiful spot full of promise. There are plans to build a greenhouse and create a writer's studio. One hundred board feet of black walnut are drying out in the barn, the trees a casualty of a recent storm. Far from Brooklyn, Ally spends her days considering topics like feminism and food, cooking and canning, writing and wrestling with big ideas. She is learning about the organic farms of Upperville and Purcellville and babysitting the farmers' children. She is grateful for this time and space that reconnects her to words, big words, like food and family and community.
"I'm just now in my late 20s starting to be a more active member of my community," she said. "For some reason I never did that when I was younger, and I'm loving being involved, being close to my neighbors."
"It's so new to me still -- trying to find my place in my place. What can I offer? What can I do?"
"I go between completely loving what we chose to do and being totally freaked out and thinking it's not gonna work out," she said. "For me, the one really reassuring thing has been having mentors who show you that it's okay to feel like that. Because there's no tenure track. There's no map."
No map, no address, no directions. And yet countless paths radiate from this green cabin in the woods.