The Geddes Cabin

Kelsey Breseman
5 min readMay 27, 2024
Photo by Eileen Breseman

Across the water from our cabin, high up on the hill, are the remains of the Mork gold mines, my great grandfather's. They never produced much gold, but so the story goes, the miners would look across the water and wish they were here "on the sunny side."

Sunnyside has been peopled, sparsely, for a few generations now. All of the neighbors know each other, and the land tends to be sold back and forth within and between the same few families. The house where Rick grew up, now a ruin of a log cabin, is a walk down the beach. At ten, he would sometimes come here, to visit Bill Geddes, who was eighty by then. We think the house was floated across the water on a barge from the mine side.

The cabin has four rooms and an attic. The outside has faded red cedar shingles, and inside, the walls are papered with a pattern of old wooden ships. The white has gone yellow, and the floor buckles in.

Rick's brother John built a bigger house just forward of the cabin, and his sister Royda raised her two sons there. When I was one or two, Rick and Eileen brought me and Ryan here for some months. They rented it out to a neighbor, who lived in it and then quietly began to use it just to store fishing gear. And then for years, both houses sat empty.

The summer I turned seventeen, Rick and Eileen brought some dozen teenagers— us three kids and our friends— back to Sunnyside to build a new cabin. We stayed in the house that John built: dark and moldering by then, but not as advanced in decay as the Geddes Cabin. Based on the smell, a family of land otters had for a while occupied one of the back rooms.

The cabin became an outbuilding as we started our annual project of re-occupying the land: Lupine Cabin became Rick and Eileen's little house. A toolshed was built by John's old house. Rick, Eileen, John and I designed a larger main cabin by the beach, and I moved into Lupine. The toolshed was rechristened Otter Cabin and fitted with a bed. And through it all, the Geddes Cabin continued to decay.

Southeast Alaska is a land of moss and rain. Wood rots. Iron rusts. Down the beach, the house of my great-aunt and -uncle Alice and Bill is now just a few bits of metal, a kettle, unidentified scrap poking out of the forest floor. Even in our occupied cabins, the squirrels chew bits of wool out of the rugs; we find the pink fibers in a nest they've made in the woodbox.

As our new cabins rose, the old ones decayed. One year, the upstairs window of the house John built collapsed out, and Eileen propped it back up with blue tarp so we could keep sleeping there when needed. In the Geddes Cabin, we stored lumber in one room, paints in another. When we shot a deer one year, Rick and I drilled a hole in the ceiling to hang it for skinning and butchering.

We built a new outhouse, airier and with a clear roof, to replace the rotting plywood stall a few years after a bear tore half the door off. With enough new sleeping spots, John's cabin finally came down. Finally, the only standing structure not built by us was the oldest one: the Geddes Cabin.

With a new boathouse/workshop by the beach for projects in progress, we could finally empty the last useful things out of the old old house. Last August, Rick handed Robert a sledgehammer to start taking down the walls.

This year, Rick, John, and Eileen sorted through and carted out decades of decaying junk. Beth pried cedar shingles from the outside wall. Robert climbed into the attic and kicked down the rotting ceilings.

A bonfire was made next to the house of much of the rubbish, roaring high despite the rain. And Robert, with chain and winch, pulled the cabin down onto it.

The fire burned for a day and smoked for two more. The heat made ingots of the aluminum roofing, which dropped into the ash. Finally, only a wreck of twisted metal and pile of crumbling sheetrock remained.

Robert spent days raking the wreckage for nails and glass shards. Eileen spent several more hauling up sand and seaweed from the beach to dampen the acrid smell. We are still carting out the steel roofing. We beach the skiff when the tide goes out, lash the metal panels over the bow, and cart them to town when the boat floats again.

But up at the top of the property, there is now an empty space. The sun peeks down upon it through the clouds: a flat spot by the spring, earth that has been covered for many years.

We have not yet decided on the land's next phase. I suspect that we will let it go: the forest is strong here. By next year, moss and salmonberry will be creeping in around the edges. In five years, it may be entirely brush, until saplings take root.

So many things are simply left, here. There is a backhoe left to rust on our land by a neighbor, pipes and bedframes in a former shed that no longer stands. Down the beach, Rick's childhood home still stands. We used to be able to go inside of the ruin, but in recent years, the entrance collapsed. Even houses that look well built stand empty at Sunnyside: this is a place not much in demand, and trash has no place to go.

Because we occupy this place, we value the dismantlement. When we can, we dig up the rusty things we find in the woods. Here on this far shore, it is a labor of love. There are giant old stumps in the woods from loggers' saws, and iceboxes that rest where they lay, and surely, there are trees even older— but we are planning forward, too.

We're lining the stream with beach rocks to make it run fast and clear for safer drinking. Each year, Eileen brings kelp up to the garden beds to build loam into the sandy soil. And I am thinking: which of these cabins can fit a baby well? A toddler? A young child? Because this will be a place where my children learn to forage, to know the ocean, to build with tools.

This year, we burned the Geddes Cabin. It was the last standing structure on our land we had not built ourselves. May its passing help the land feel renewed.

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