It was a small cabin, hewn from the very stone upon which it stood.
It stood some ways back from the main highway, perched precariously on a small cliff, where the road cut through part of the mountain.
We had blown past it many, many times.
It had always appeared deserted.
Admittedly, we had allowed ourselves only the briefest of glances, hurrying to or from family obligations.
But one could take note of the empty windows. The vacant chimney.
Now, quite obviously, its unoccupied state had changed.
The cabin had come to life and it was showing a brave, cheerful face to the world.
The wide front porch, with its single rocking chair and stone tubs of red blooms looked open and inviting.
The square central chimney blew merry puffs of smoke into the clear air.
My husband slowed down, peering upwards. "Hey, Mare, looks like our little cabin is occupied."
I smiled at him. Our little cabin? I, too, looked up. "It does."
"I've always wondered how one reached that cabin," he said.
"Me, too," I said.
He glanced behind us.
Here, near the cabin, the road twisted through the narrow cutting, disappearing almost immediately behind us. Oncoming traffic was invisible until it was only a couple of car lengths away.
It was a dangerous spot to stop.
My husband pulled over to the right as far as he could and slowed to a crawl.
I could feel the rough stones of the shoulder beneath the tires.
"What are you doing?" I said.
"Here? Someone's going to come around the corner . . ."
"We'll be fine," he said.
I rolled my eyes and clutched the little potted plant I held, but said nothing.
He was studying the steep cliff beside us.
Suddenly, he pointed. "There!" he said.
A small opening had appeared in the wall of stone.
Barely wide enough for a car.
No wonder we had missed it.
He turned into it.
"What are you doing now?" I said.
He grinned. "Going to see our cabin."
"But, honey, we don't know who lives there!"
He glanced at me. "You've always wanted to see it, right?"
"Well . . . yes."
"All right, then."
We were silent as the car labored up the short, steep drive.
It opened up suddenly and we were on a wide ledge of stone.
The cabin stood directly in front of us.
My husband pulled next to an ancient car parked there and shut the engine off.
He opened his door. "Coming?"
I stared at him, then set my plant on the seat and reached for the door handle. "I guess so."
I slid out and stood for a moment, looking at the cabin.
From this angle, it looked solid.
As though it could meet any challenge.
Withstand any threat.
I started to close the door, then spied my plant on the front seat.
For some reason, I reached out and picked it up, cradling it in my arm as I closed the door.
My husband frowned. "What's that for?"
"I'm not sure."
He shrugged and the two of us walked around to the porch, then up a small set of stone steps.
Just as we reached the wide front door, it swung inwards.
Just a crack.
"Are you lost?" a sweet little voice asked from the darkness on the other side of the door.
"No," my husband said. "We drive past here weekly, on our way to my mother's home . . ."
I glanced down at the plant I was still clutching, originally intended for said mother-in-law.
My husband was still speaking, ". . . and we couldn't help but notice that someone was living here. We thought we'd drop in and say hello."
"Oh." There was a pause, then, "Well, that's nice. Please, come in."
The door swung wide. A tiny, stooped old woman appeared in the opening.
"I don't get many visitors," she said.
My husband stepped back and let me go through first.
I sank into a thick, hand-knotted rag rug covering most of the wide, polished floorboards in the entry/living/family room which took up the entire front of the house.
Windows ran on three sides of the room, offering glimpses of the wide porch, the road below and the purple mountains fading into the distance.
A fire crackled cheerfully in the stone fireplace across from the entrance. A large, grey cat was asleep on the hearth in front of it.
A long, horsehair sofa, brightly covered in a beautiful, hand-stitched quilt, was pushed under the windows to our right with a low, highly polished wooden table in front of it. A single, winged chair with a matching footstool held the place of honor in the center of the room, within toasting distance of the warm flames.
A heaped workbasket stood beside it.
The opposite side of the room was taken up by a large quilt frame. An intricate, half-finished quilt was fastened to it.
The walls, stone and wood, were bare, except for the lone picture of two smiling, apple-cheeked children over the fireplace.
It was a warm room.
A cozy room.
I felt instantly at home.
I turned back to the woman, who had just finished closing the door, and got my first good look at her.
She looked . . . soft.
Her figure was plump and gently rounded. Her face unlined and pleasant.
Snow-white hair was drawn gently back into a loose bun at the back of her head. She had a straight, small nose and a tiny bow of a mouth which smiled readily.
Faded blue eyes regarded us with a merry twinkle.
Her whole being seemed to shine with good will and happiness.
I held out my hand. "I'm Mary," I said, "and this is my husband, Frank."
The tiny woman grasped my hand firmly. "Mary is my name, too," she said, smiling. Her blue eyes twinkled. "I won't have any trouble remembering that!"
She pressed my hand between both of hers, then turned towards Frank.
"And Frank. So nice to meet you!"
He shook her hand as well, then cleared his throat uncomfortably.
Now that he had gotten us inside, he seemed to be at a loss.
I shook my head. My big, strong explorer.
Obviously, it was up to me.
I held out the plant. "This is for you," I said.
"Oh!" she clasped her hands together. "Oh, this is lovely!"
She reached for the small pot with trembling hands, then held it tightly and smiled at me. "Thank you, my dear!"
I smiled back. "You're very welcome." I scratched my forehead, feeling suddenly awkward. "Ummm . . . Mary, we're sorry to barge in like this, but we have always admired your home here and wanted to just come and take a peek. We really didn't mean to disturb you."
Mary smiled. "It's no bother," she said. "I watch the cars go past on the road and often wish someone would stop to say hello." She waved a hand towards the front room. "Please. Take a look around."
I stepped towards the sofa and glanced out the window. "You have a lovely view," I said.
"Oh, yes. That is what I love most about this place," Mary said. "My husband, God rest him, couldn't stand it here. Said it made him feel . . . hemmed in."
"Oh, I'm sorry," I said, turning back to her. "Has he been gone long?"
"A few weeks now," she said. "But don't feel bad. We had a long and happy life together." She looked around. "This was my parent's home. I was born here."
"Oh, how nice!"
"Yes, but when I married, my husband's work took us to the city and we lived there until . . ." she paused.
"Until he . . ."
"Yes," she said.
I patted her arm.
"Come. See the rest," she said. She showed us proudly through the little house. The old-fashioned kitchen with its hand pump beside the sink and its wood stove.
The two tiny bedrooms, one on either side of the kitchen, with their equally tiny beds covered several layers deep in more of the hand-made quilts.
It was like stepping back in time.
I had to keep glancing at the electrical wires, obviously a later addition, tacked neatly to the stone and wood walls, to remind myself that we were still in the present.
Mary led us back to the main room. "Please sit," she said, indicating the sofa, "and I'll make tea."
"Oh, I don't think . . ." I got no further.
Obediently, we sank down.
"Could I at least help with something?"
"You are my guest," Mary said. "I'll bring in the tea." She disappeared into the kitchen.
"Now see what comes of being nosey," I whispered to Frank.
He gave me a lop-sided grin.
In a very short time, Mary was back, with a laden tray. She set it down on the low table, then picked up something.
An old camera, in a worn, leather case.
"I hope you don't mind," she said, "but I get so few visitors that I'd like to record it."
"We don't mind," Frank said.
The two of us put our heads together and smiled obligingly.
The camera clicked.
Mary set it back on the tray and proceeded to serve us tea.
An hour later, we were once more back in our car, waving at the little, old woman as she smiled at us from her porch.
"Well, that was an adventure," my husband said, as he negotiated the narrow drive.
"I thought it was lovely," I said. "After the initial discomfort."