By Jonathan Rufino '19
On the eastern bank of Halfway Pond, about seven miles from Norton, Vermont (population 169), and a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, stands a quaint off-the-grid log cabin. It’s my family’s happy home for a couple weeks late in the summer each year.
Situated just below the forty-fifth parallel, the rustic dwelling requires, to say the least, dedication to reach. There are no roads to facilitate a journey there, no signs to assuage doubt as to the way, and no hint that a cabin might lie at the end of the trek. The walk through the forest is like an odyssey to another simpler world, another long past time. With each step down the barely evident grassy trail from the shoddily paved Hurricane Brook Road to the cabin itself, I shed an element of my stressful life at home.
Every morning there, I wake up to the trickling of the pond water through the grassy marshland just a few feet from the cabin. The sunlight, pushing in through the slits in the wooden wall, devises nonsensical shapes on the floorboards. And the birds, like faint muffled bells, tinkle a contented “good morning” from the trees.
Taking leave of the coziness of my cot, swinging open both the wooden and mesh front doors, and stepping outside into primeval nature at its purest state is simultaneously soothing and overwhelming. I look across Halfway Pond to the raw and untouched forest on the western bank, then turn my eyes southward to where the pond water begins to move, spilling into the mile-long Hurricane Brook. The sun filters through the green leaves of the intimidatingly tall trees while squirrels and insects scramble like cogs in some unpredictable machine of nature.
The day might be spent rowing or swimming in the freshwater Halfway Pond, trekking in the dense forest, or reading in the tranquil shade of the cabin. More often, though, it’s spent in silence, drinking in the purity of nature. There’s nothing in that place even remotely reminiscent of the outside world. No car horns, no sounding telephones, not even any light pollution at night.
So if it’s anything, it’s an escape, a place that I sorely miss for the eleven and some months of the year when my life is occupied by deadlines and pressure. It’s somewhere I can remind myself that, once in a while, it’s worth it to just stop and appreciate what’s around me. It’s incredible.
Or at least it would be, if it were true.
As far as I know, there aren’t any log cabins outside Norton, Vermont, and there surely aren’t any belonging to my family. I don’t know about the trees and bushes on a path which may or may not exist, I’ve never seen Hurricane Brook, and I’ve certainly never swum in Halfway Pond.
But there’s a reason I can describe this place. It’s because yes, every long night when I push through to finish that last bit of homework, every stressful evening when I’m plagued by uncertainty about how I did on that test, and every painful morning when I drag myself out of bed, I’m thinking of this hypothetical relaxing log cabin on the New England marshland.
This is fernweh. Simply put, fernweh is a German word, translating loosely to “wanderlust” and more specifically to “homesickness for a place one hasn’t ever been.” Coming from the words fern (far) and weh (pain), it’s a feeling we’ve all felt at some time or another.
So no, I’ve never been to any peaceful cabin in the woods, let alone one in Vermont. But still I know this place. I’m homesick for it, though I’ve never set foot in it in my life.
Just like everyone else, I’m a victim of fernweh.