The little things. by ally earnest


In the pause of the new year, our family snuck off with friends to the Bull River Guard Station, on the Montana-Idaho border.  As the wife of a leatherworker, the time had come to pull the card for family downtime. The holiday season kept our entire family blessedly busy, right up until the night before Christmas.  Full of gratitude for the holiday rush, we were now ready to relax. Our dear friends graciously extended an invitation for us to join them on an a retreat. Away we went on 1/1/19. 

It was evident, upon seeing the cabin, that was the right place for respite. The rustic 1906 structure was built by the hands of forest ranger, Granville “Granny” Gordan. He designed it for himself and his family, which included his wife Paulina and their 3 daughters. Granny had been a ranger for Teddy Roosevelt. He hand-felled the trees, from the surrounding forest, to fashion the cabin timbers from. Those timbers stand today, as solid as they were the day they were cut. 

Once inside the cabin, we could see scraps of yellow newsprint that remained adhered to the walls as insulation from the draft. They bore advertisements for Model-T Fords and lilac-scented soap.  Faded grey portraits of the Gordan family hung in the petit parlor. They depicted scenes from their turn-of-the century, American Gothic life at the ranger station. A Forest Service newsletter, tucked in the parlor writing desk, told visitors that the small keeping room of the cabin was known as the “happy room”.  No pipes carried water to or from the home, neither then nor today. Dishes were washed in a small kitchen basin. Snow would be heated to boiling on the stove, then poured. A well-kept privy stood a hundred paces out-back, behind the cabin. Sleeping accommodations were missionary sparse.


My husband and I slept upstairs on a low-slung, spring bed, in a small cove at the top the steep stairway. Early the first morning, our wake-up call was four dogs mashing up all soft parts with sharp, dancing feet. My husband balled up before they flattened him. He won, I lost. I would have to let them out.  Slipping out from the sunken, swaybacked nest I beat the spastic pack down the dark stairway. Behind me, dogs spilled down the chute and out into the dimly lit kitchen area. There they spun and jigged, in navy lighting, nails scraping and scratching on old floorboards. I gripped a floral-stamped, metal knob to steady myself and crammed stockinged feet into hard-soled slippers.  One hard tug and the stout, cabin door opened onto to a curtain of indigo. Crystal stars hung high, journeying westward still toward the Cabinet Mountain range. Rocking back on my heels once, I eased out into the obscure, snappy chill.

The pack scattered to private places and my 100 ft march to bladder freedom began. Crunchy snowpack collapsed, loud underfoot. When the distance was cut to half, I stopped. The next fifty feet seemed really far. I felt like tiny like a shrimp on a colossal, icy, ocean floor. The small outhouse glowed, inviting and eerie at once. Turning back to the cabin, I confirmed she was still there. A solid, cube with a triangle top like a child’s building block. Inky-black, sawtooth peaks climbed a quarter of the vertical horizon behind her. Scenes from The Revenant were filmed not 15 miles from here. In that moment I hoped to God that it was not the bear scene. Spruce trees towered into a black cathedral, blocking out the stars, to the south and east.

The stoic little cabin stood, quiet and firm, as she had for the last hundred years. Sheltering her dwellers against wildlife and wild weather. She had given protection from grizzlies, cougars, wolves, blizzards, hail, fire and rain.  A light inside of her threw long, yellow rectangles on the snow, like a petticoat of a lady. She was small, but I was smaller. With stark and sober clarity, I appreciated the little things.


Written by Allyson Dusault Earnest 

Photos by Terry Hamilton Miller and Daniel Earnest 1.1.19


  • Carole

    Ally, this was a wonderful read! I got to enjoy so much from reading about your small gathering, that I felt I was there!

  • R

    Ally, this is soo you… & Me

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