Abandoned cabin sites announce themselves with daffodils in March.

I was walking along the Meramec River's bottoms, upstream from Turtle Pond (a remnant from the failed attempt to build a dam across the river), and I came across a big patch, bright green and yellow against winter's fallen leaves, obviously out of place. I immediately started looking for the cabin.

All that was left was a bit of the foundation (local rock mortared together), an solid set of steps (concrete risers, probably poured elsewhere), a rusting mattress frame, and odd bits of rusting metal here and there.

I found another, across Beaver Creek and up a slope. Same deal, except for this one had used more concrete block and poured concrete in its construction. And it didn't have daffodils; instead, one surviving bit of iris was just working its way up through the forest duff.

On the way back to my car, I followed the old track that connected all of these cabins back to the main road. There's one ruin that's most more elaborate than the others, and includes some pretty dramatic trash, left to rust. Most of it was identifiable, but this was a bit of a puzzle:

Washing machine, I think. But I'm not sure.

When I was a kid, we called these kinds of cabins "clubhouses," and they were found up and down the Meramec (and elsewhere in the Ozarks, although then they weren't "clubhouses"). Usually they were primitive affairs; owner-built, usually, from whatever materials the owner could haul to the site, hammered together bit-by-bit, and furnished second-hand. In most every instance I saw, water and sanitation were sketchy affairs. But then we never stayed for long: a weekend, or part of a week, enough time to drink some beer, get sunburnt and bug-bit, and see the stars at night. Long enough, in other words, to forget about the city, and then to remember why we liked it.

I was a kid, so I don't know how expensive all that was. Given the general shabbiness of things, it much have been pretty cheap. And lots of people seemed to have a clubhouse they could go to, if not one of their own, then one of their friends'.

When the Corp of Engineers started buying up land for the Meramec Dam, they ended up buying a lot of clubhouses. At some point (by the original owners, before the sale completed? by the Corp?), those clubhouses where all dismantled. As near as I can tell from the remains, the process of dismantling was the same: remove any reusable lumber, furniture, windows, etc.; extract as many whole concrete blocks as could be pried loose from their mortar beds, but leave the broken ones where they fall; and throw the mattresses in the bushes. I'm dead serious about the mattresses--I have yet to see an old clubhouse site without at least one set of rusting mattress springs or bed frame.

When the dam project fell through (largely because people in the region made such a fuss that the government abandoned the idea), the Corp transferred the land it had acquired to the state. Some of the land ended up inside the present boundaries of Meramec State Park. I've had a look at old maps of the land now in the park, and I can't quite guess how many cabin and clubhouse ruins are there. A half-dozen? Easily. A dozen? Perhaps. Plus the remains of a mine, and of what in old pictures appears to be a substantial cattle operation. Plus the left-overs from the Corps work in the dam. The documenting of these remains seems like an interesting project for someone.

Interesting because at the ruins--and the daffodils--point toward multiple iterations of Missourians engagement with the Ozarks. Cattle raising and mining remind use of basic economic uses of the land, cattle raising especially. Then comes the clubhouses, a model of recreation which which thrived for a time, and which offered an experience of nature tempered by civilized comfort, an experience domesticated by daffodils. Then came the failed attempt at a dam, which would have created the powerboat lake, near to St. Louis. The most recent use of that of the State Park, which has designated the land around the clubhouse ruins as a "Natural Area", as a part of the park that nature is especially pure.

We might accept the ideal of natural purity, if not for the daffodils, and they very unnatural story they announce.