By Loren Eiseley (RIP 1907-1977)
Rough hewn, square logged.
As we rode up, a sand dune was just beginning
to swallow the far side.
The cabin lay on the edge of nowhere
abandoned in cattle country that a nester
had tried to farm unsuccessfully,
or been shot, or run off.
I could never find it again.
the big dune has covered it by now
and stabilized in the wet years.
Perhaps the same things
are still lying on the floor
with the grass and the hill
I remember seeing the washpan
with cast-iron handles
hanging under the eves.
It gave me a fey sense of time relived, I
cried to the others, my companions,
look, it's the kind my folks used
when I was a little boy,
look! and someone laughed.
Inside there was nothing much:
a long-laced woman's shoe-
my god what use did she
have for it there-
a Sears Roebuck catalogue
and blowing ceaselessly
upon the floor
a newspaper with an almost modern lead:
Great Japanese Naval Victory
Teddy Roosevelt was president.
It was 1905.
In a cabin
a clock had stopped,
that was all.
Where was the woman who left
one lady's show
in cow country?
Where was the man who left dozens of
delicately tapered beer bottles
in the storm cellar?
They are high priced in Philadelphia now,
they are antiques.
We did not ouch anything, a spell held us:
the beginnings of the modern world,
the guns that led to Pearl Harbor,
blowing on the floor
of the last frontier cabin,
time so slow
We tiptoed away.
The cabin is surely
under the dunes now,
time stopped at 1905.
They left the washpan hanging
on a nail under the eves.
I wonder where they went
they were already sleeping
somewhere near us.
People are incalculable in their departures.
I have someone's Colt revolver and a dice box
but no address.
It will be so with us
far off in a cabin of our own.
The riders in the yard will say
the clock stopped
and ride off laughing
into another century.
Think of us, please. We shall be
There will be no one to explain why we forgot the washbasin
or one show on the floor.
We will appear odd, yet there was
possibly a reason.
Remember us. That is all that is left.
Eiseley published The Cabin in his book of poems - Notes of an Alchemist (1972). Eiseley was one of those renaissance people. After growing up in Nebrasks, he became an anthropologist, naturalist, professor (at Penn State), philosopher, environmentalist, essayist and poet. The fragility and dynamism of this life, our life, all life, is fully on display in this poem. Yet there is also dignity and honor toward those who have come before and the connection between such previous lives and our own is a constant theme in Eiseley's writings as is the dignity and value of each life on it's own no matter how unknown or isolated, brief or small. Such empathy and respect are timeless lessons, if only we could learn them. But to that we need to stop, to listen deeply, to watch with all our senses attuned, to seek out the small and out of the way or overlooked, to redeem with the witness and hand of our love, of God's love all creation as far as our wisdom and ability may carry us and not let politics or other such transitory and manufactured worries block such empathy. At least this is the advocacy I find in Eiseley and how deeply his writing has impacted my life.