Once upon a bygone Oregon time, there stood an old log cabin on the banks of Lost Lake. My dad and his family would spend weeks at a time there when he was a little boy, and this rustic wilderness sanctuary was very special to them. So special I’ve come to find that although time ambled by and the cabin sadly burned down, they still returned to it in memory over and over again.
Situated in scenic Mt. Hood National Forest, Lost Lake is among Oregon’s many jewel spots for camping and recreation. And back around the 1930’s when Dad used to visit his grandpa who worked there, it served as one giant playground. According to Dad, his boyhood experiences at Lost Lake helped put him on the road to becoming a plant pathology professor – and they even helped shape his sense of ethics.
Dad’s was a very artistic family, and the cabin at Lost Lake proved a creative inspiration for both Dad and his sister Sally. Given the number of their efforts I’ve found (some done and some well begun) that depict the locale, I can’t help but think it was a treasured touchstone for the whole Parmeter clan.
Although Dad’s plans to preserve the cabin on canvas went unfinished, he did paint a picture in words in an autobiography he wrote for fun. It may have been named “Lost” Lake, but it’s clear that through the years, Dad’s deep affection for the place was never lost or diminished. Here’s his own account of his days there (edited a wee bit for time):
“Grandpa Rothery was a forest ranger. Listening to him talk of forests, mountains, animals, and US Forest Service activities was pure, magical romance to me. Whether recounting a major forest fire or just a satisfying hunting tale, it all seemed to be the essence of adventure. And the USFS hat and uniform just added to it all.
It was a real thrill to sit and listen to the rangers call back and forth on the old crank telephones of the day. He knew all of the longs and shorts and would identify each phone user. “There’s so-and-so over at Izee” or “there’s such-and-such calling in from the lookout on Zigzag.” I was sure, and it’s likely true, that Grandpa knew every inch of the Mount Hood National Forest. When some lookout spotted smoke in the forest, they often relied on him to lead a team of firefighters to the right spot. He was I suppose a major factor in my later decision to go into some aspect of forestry.
For many years, Grandpa Rothery manned the guard station on the undeveloped side of Lost Lake, a station that existed mainly to discourage any interlopers from taking illegal sorties up the forbidden trail to Bullrun Lake, a major Portland water supply. Each year we made one or more trips to this what to me was a remote, romantic cabin in the wilderness.
Getting to Lost Lake entailed a drive along the old Columbia River highway, up and over the Rowena Loops (a tangle of hairpin turns and switchbacks of grand proportion), wandering through Hood River, maybe a stop for soda pop at Dee, and then long, slow negotiation of a narrow, dirt backroad with a dead end at the Lost Lake campground.
There were no roads to the cabin so we usually rowed Grandpa’s Forest Service boat across the lake. Long since consumed by an inconsiderate fire with no sense of history, it was really two small cabins connected by an open porch way (I can’t think of a better word) between a living/cooking section and a sleeping section. I well remember, however, that we kids usually slept on cots in the kitchen section. It was a log cabin constructed in the manner of some trapper’s frontier shelter. What a situation for a boy much taken with thoughts of mountain men taming the wilderness.
Logs, properly chinked, provided adequate protection from the elements, but they seemed to offer little discouragement to a variety of small critters. It was especially thrilling to lie on the cot at night and listen to the strange rustlings, scorings, scratchings and squeaking. Any edibles left unprotected were fair game, and not even small items in the keys-to-glasses size range could be left out with impunity. In the flickering glow of the fire, you often could see bright-eyed packrats racing along beams and rafters in search of any attractive additions to their middens.
Mountain thunderstorms occasionally rolled by with much crashing and exciting electrical displays as the blue arcs leaped repeatedly across terminals on the phone. At other times we were entertained by hooting owls, wailing coyotes, or other, often mysterious, forest noises. What greater thrill could a boy have than to live with wildlife in the dark of a remote, mountain cabin?
A second thrill, not nearly as romantic, was the bedtime trip to the outhouse. As one might expect, the privy was some distance from the cabin, and during the day it was just a short, pleasant walk. In the dark of night, however, this short trail grew into a very long and intimidating journey through shadowy trees and bushes looking for all the world as if each was concealing a bear, wolf, or cougar with a ravenous appetite and a predilection to pounce on small boys. I marvel now at how the vivid inventions of a boyish mind could convert the peace and quiet of a dark forest into some threatening den of danger.
Days were almost pure adventure. Often I liked to lie face down on the dock, the warm sun toasting my swimsuited frame, and watch the trout and mud dogs vie for salmon eggs or bits of bread. Fish never took any eggs if they were attached to my hook and line. Fish are smart that way, but I frequently frittered away an hour or two trying anyway. I can’t remember ever actually catching a fish on the dock. Once I sneaked to the inlet, which was closed to fishing, and managed to hook a small trout, which I proudly displayed to Mom and Grandpa. Both knew that I knew I had broken the law, and both quickly made me feel I had become an incorrigible hoodlum and candidate for a life of crime. Perhaps that is why even today I would find it very difficult to flout a fishing law, or any other, for that matter.
Sometimes it was pleasant just to walk around on the trail that encircled the lake. Birds, insects, and small critters abounded, and the shapes and smells of the plant life were almost intoxicating to an impressionable and imaginative boy. Or I might take Grandpa’s boat for a spin. The ambient elegance of the surrounding hills and forest would inspire Constable. The setting was idyllic the range of wilderness aromas unending, and the melodious forest sounds a never-forgotten symphony.
Lost Lake was my Louvre, my Disneyland, and my Carnegie Hall, and very likely greatly reinforced my love of mountains, forests, and nature in general. A very special, influential place indeed!”
Yes, once upon a bygone Oregon time, there stood an old log cabin on the banks of Lost Lake. It’s gone now. But for me, Dad and Aunt Sally saved it. Thank you so very much, Daddy and Sally! May we all discover such magical and inspiring places of our own – and never, ever lose them.