by Rev. Matt Ybañez
There is a cabin in southeast Arkansas. You would never find it unless you were looking for it. The cabin is hidden in a maze of gravel logging roads. The closest paved road is about 20 or so minutes away and the closest town is called Warren, Arkansas (population 5,582). The little cabin sits on a tree farm in the middle of logging country; protected by tall pine trees all around that offer their shade as they sway back and forth gently in the wind. The cabin is exactly 33 years old. I know this because my grandparents love to tell the story about how they were working on some of the finishing touches the day they received the call that I had been born.
The cabin has a big screened-in porch with a porch swing where I spent hours upon hours watching hummingbirds buzz up to sip nectar from the feeders, and where I would marvel in awe at the sheer power and presence of a summer thunderstorm with its lightning flashes and thunderclaps shaking the cabin itself. It’s where I would sit and prepare my fishing rod and reel with the perfect lure before making my way down the boardwalk to a small pond where the Jon boat was tied to the pier. I learned to fish on that pond. I caught my first fish there when I was 4 or 5. My dad would wake me up at sunrise and he and I would sneak out of the cabin in the early morning to fish. On those mornings the surface of the water was like a perfect sheet of glass. When I would first set my foot in the boat, it would rock a little and rings of waves would radiate out from the boat and I would watch them expand all the way to the other side of the pond. When the fish weren’t biting there was always something else to do.
I learned how to use power tools and how to build things at the cabin. We built a fire ring, and boardwalks that went everywhere. One year, I got to help my dad and grandfather rebuild the deck that circled the cabin. I remember when I was a little older my grandfather and I even rebuilt the pier out on the lake. It was at the cabin that I developed a love and passion for nature and my first-ever hobby, bird watching. I’ll never forget the call of a pileated woodpecker on a nearby tree – always just out of sight. There were trails to explore and places to just sit and be. There was a rope swing that someone hung high up on a tree branch at least 25 ft. up in the air. I used to see how high I could get on my own and then when I got tired of that my brother and I would wind up the swing as tight as we could and then spin for 10-15 minutes while the ropes unwound themselves.
When it got dark, my brother and I would catch fireflies. On some nights, there were so many that we would put them in jars and there would be enough light to find your way around in the dark. On other nights, we would load up in the Jon boat with flashlights, nets, snake tongs, and a machete and circle the edge of the pond looking for snakes, turtles and bullfrogs. Pap Pa didn’t like the poisonous snakes around, so we got rid of those. The snapping turtles ate the fish so they were relocated, and the bullfrogs were fun, but nearly impossible to catch (to this day, I’ve never seen bullfrogs as big as the ones in that pond). That little cabin in Arkansas is a part of me: the sights, the sounds, the smells, the memories. It has shaped who I am by creating a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around me. When I see the world today, often it is through the eyes of that little boy who used to scheme about how he was finally going to catch those ever-elusive monster catfish that hid in the depths of the pond, or whose heart broke a little when the logging company clear cut all of the adjacent properties that surrounded his grandparents’ land. Sometimes it’s through the eyes of the boy who forgot to put the plug in the bottom of the boat before shoving off, and sometimes it’s through the eyes of a father who desperately wants those same experiences for his daughters.
The cabin is sacred ground. It’s a place where I come face to face with creation and the sheer joy of just being alive. There were a few summers when the cabin was a sanctuary from the chaos that tends to crop up and interrupt life, and for the longest time, when I tried to imagine God, all I could see were those pine trees – swaying gently back and forth while the wind seemed to dance through the branches – whispering all around me.
I know it’s been too long since I’ve visited that place, and I know it’s my own fault for not working harder to go out there, but something is stirring in my soul and it calls out to me, perhaps the still, small voice of God, beckoning me back out to that place.