Yes, a picture of the actual cabin.
I got my associate’s degree from a local community college, which meant that I only had to do two and a half years at university to complete my bachelor’s degree. It didn’t sound so bad, and I got into my dream school, so I was pretty excited to go.
Fortunately, my grandparent’s second residence—a log cabin in the woods—was located just shy of an hour south of my dream campus in University Park, Pennsylvania. Being the recluse that I am, I figured I could live there and completely avoid the student population while I did my schoolwork.
It was a great idea in theory. Here’s how it played out and why I’ll never do it again.
1. You Do Actually Need People
I will never forget that feeling when my parents drove away and left me at the cabin for the first time. Yes, I was older than the typical-aged college student. But my love for my parents was no less, and as I watched them drive away, I cried.
I was prepared to not have friends. I’d never been social, didn’t feel the need to be, and I wasn’t counting on making any friends. My boyfriend was going to university in Virginia, about two and a half hours away. My best friend at the time, Stephanie, was going to university in Maryland. I was fully prepared and equipped with my smartphone to stay in touch with them during my time there.
My brother pulling me on a sled in the snow in PA. I am having the time of my life, as you can see.
Turns out, it wasn’t enough. I went days on end without seeing anybody. It’s a feeling I wasn’t used to and one I learned not to like. I felt very isolated despite being on a campus with 40,000 people and missed simple face-to-face interactions with people. I made two friends during my time at Penn State (hey, Dom and Chris!) and their kindness and friendship made me realize just how much people matter in life.
2. You Don’t Actually Want to Build a Log Cabin
I can’t tell you how much I hear people nostalgically talk about cabins. They vacation in cabins. They honeymoon in cabins. They party in cabins. They talk about building cabins because they’re cheap.
I stop these people every time. I’m like, “NO! You do not want to do that!”
Vacationing in a cabin? Fine. Honeymooning in a cabin? Fine. Partying in a cabin? Whatever floats your boat. But for real and serious, you DO NOT want to build a log cabin.
Although this is a gorgeous picture of the Juniata River, which happens to be right in the backyard at the cabin.
The log you see on the inside is the same log that you see on the outside. They do not hold heat well. The animals destroy them. They are a bitch to maintain. You will regret this decision and in a relatively short amount of time, the cabin will not be worth the money that you put in to maintain it.
Trust me, I’ve seen all this firsthand. Go visit a cabin. Do not invest in one. It is not an investment and it’s definitely not comfortable to live in year-round. You can thank me later.
(Update: I was recently informed by a reader that it was presumptuous of me to say that no one would want to live in and/or build a log cabin. This is presumptuous of me, and I apologize. I assure you my advice was well-intentioned when writing this article. As an update, I’ll say: GO BUILD THE CABIN IF YOU WANT TO! YOU HAVE FREE WILL, GIRL!)
3. The Winters Are Cold in Pennsylvania
I’ve been going to that cabin since I was three years old. I KNOW the winters are cold in Pennsylvania. But here’s what I learned from living in that cabin for two winters: the winters are cold in Pennsylvania.
Now, before everyone freaks out and tells me what I wimp I am, yes, I have been to Canada, and no, I do not handle the cold well. I have low blood pressure and am borderline anemic, so I freeze in anything that’s below 70 degrees basically.
I froze my ass off there for two years. My social anxiety kept me from taking any sort of public transportation while on campus, and since I was a commuter, I needed to walk from the school parking lot to my classes every day. So I walked my ass right past the bus station where all the normal commuters got picked up and hoofed it in my Timberland boots 40 minutes to and from class every day.
A heart I drew in the snow for my boyfriend because I was bored.
I’ll never forget the day it was 5 degrees outside and I stole a pair of mittens out of the women’s bathroom and grabbed a sweater out of the lost and found because I was so cold (ok, I’m lying, I didn’t do those things because I was cold, I did those things because I was weird and I wanted to; they also didn’t happen on the same day, which somehow makes it even weirder).
Did I mention Penn State is notorious for not canceling classes because of snow? Classes were not canceled once during my two years there. We had two 2-hour delays and it seemed I was lucky to get even that. I missed a week of classes one winter because I couldn’t get out of my driveway, let alone up the mountain I drove every day to get to campus.
The freezing cold was not fun and I was miserable and I hated it. I’d get home at night when it was cold and dark and soak in the hot tub for a long time while I shuddered at the thought of going outside again.
4. Animals Like Log Cabins
Log cabins are the epitome of nature. The wood that’s there, the fact that no one lives there year-round, its location in the middle of the woods: all these features made it irresistible to animals.
Deer, foxes, squirrels, turkeys, mice, flying squirrels, and rabbits were some of the animals I saw there. The flying squirrels and mice had taken up residence with me in the cabin. I rescued one from the coat closet one evening when I was doing my homework at the dining room table and heard it rummaging around in there. I was scared to death.
A picture of that poor flying squirrel. Don’t worry, I got it off the glue trap safely and released it. I HATE glue traps; my grandparents put them out and I throw them away every time I go up there.
The mice liked to try and eat my food and somehow found their way into my panty drawer (yes, you read that right: panty not pantry) and the silverware drawer. Two of the worst places to find evidence of mice, let me tell you. I washed all that stuff more times than I care to count.
I learned that there’s essentially no separation of nature. You are one with the animals, the forest, the cabin. A good thing? Yes. Sometimes. When you don’t own that building.
5. I Will Never Live in a Log Cabin
Two years and I was DONE with that shit. Don’t get me wrong—I am so, so grateful to my grandparents for letting me stay there. The cabin was beautiful and they maintained it well and I was alone, mostly secure, and able to have my bunnies with me. I could canoe whenever I wanted and got to bike and run in beautiful spots.
A picture of the cabin from the backyard.
But I will never live in a log cabin again.
Summers are gorgeous. Winters are brutal. I’m fine to visit but I will not live there. Thanks, but no thanks. I want a real house next time.
6. I am Actually Scared as Shit
Like I said, I thought I was prepared for the loneliness and isolation I would experience. Turns out, talking to Ian and my parents and my best friend Stephanie every day wasn’t enough. My four adorable, amazing rabbits weren’t even enough.
I still slept with a shotgun next to me.
I still slept with a six-inch knife under my pillow.
I still slept with my cell phone beside my ear just in case someone broke in.
Did I mention the can of wasp spray on my nightstand? Shit sprays 20 feet and your attacker is blinded until they get to a hospital.
Or the cabinet underneath the laundry room sink that I cleared out? Yeah, I fit perfectly in there. I figured if someone broke in I would hide in there while calling the police. No one would look for me in a cabinet!
I spent nights before I fell asleep going over escape routes in my head. What would I do if someone broke in the basement, what would I do if someone broke in the main level, what would I do if a car came in the driveway, what would I do if they were going to hurt my bunnies?
Me and the bunnies at the cabin.
I was scared as shit basically every single night while I was there except for the nights that Ian or my parents or Stephanie were visiting, which wasn’t often. I realized that I’m actually terrified and was completely unprepared for being alone after growing up in a house with four other people and numerous guns. Terrified.
For all of these reasons, although I am grateful for my time in the cabin, I will not live in a cabin again, definitely not alone, and definitely not in central Pennsylvania in the dead of winter. Was my English degree worth it? You tell me.