by Julie L. Semrau
From Yippy Yi Yea Magazine, Fall 1994
|A winding private road climbs up
the side of a mountain overlooking scenic vistas of Wheeler and Taos mountains in the
distance. Michael's cabin, banked by sheltering pines on one side, glows with
sunlight on the natural wood of its walls. Its modest fieldstone chimney is outlined
by the brilliant blue of the New Mexico sky. Inside the cabin, a collection of
mementos and practical necessities reveals as much about the surrounding wildlife as a
tour guide. The wool curtains and vintage china in the kitchen are the color of
fresh pine needles - green, an Irishman's favorite color and the color of the forest.
Carvings of birds and animals, most native to the surrounding mountains, are
arranged on the tops of tables and shelves. Many gifts from friends include beaded
leather gloves used in Native American church ceremonies and a plaque from a mountain main
at WestFest. Ask about anything in the cabin, and a common refrain runs through
Michael's response: if it's here, it's here for a reason. Above:
The land surrounding Michael Martin Murphey's cabin is preserved
for wildlife. Almost every evening, elk come out of the forest to graze.
Michael researched 35 different companies before choosing the Hearthstone Log Company in
Knoxville, Tennessee, to build the cabin.
|"The china I picked out is the
same that my grandmother had, and I have really found memories of it." he says
walking into the kitchen. The full set of dishes, "Curiosity Shop," is a
New England design that dates from the '40s ad '50s. Years ago Michael saw one of
the plates in a store window and immediately remembered his grandmother's set. He
collected a full set of the green and white china just for the cabin. Other touches seem
to soften the wild, mountain man feel of the cabin, as well. His maternal
grandmother loved roses, an inclination shared by his wife. A cotton throw, his
grandmother's lamp and a Victorian print all are reminiscent of this grandmother's
influence. "There's a lot of tradition from the women in my family here,"
he says. "I wanted my wife, Mary, to be comfortable here, but comfortable
through my eyes."
The beaded leather gloves were used
in Native American church ceremonies.
An obvious pride in his Irish heritage is
evident inside this cabin. "The Irish towels were given to me by my grandfather
when he first went to search out the family. He kissed the Blarney stone, and he
bought the towels in the gift shop by the castle where the Blarney stone is. He gave
those to me when I was about 10 or 11 years old," says Michael. His intent wasn't
merely to make a place to store a trove of ancestral treasures - it welcomes the presence
of his own children in many ways. The cabin gives equal time to all of Michael's
family: past, present and future. Twin beds in the loft overlooking the sitting room
are filled with the tools of modern childhood: books, drawings, dolls and the like; but no
television, telephone or computer games. "It actually takes two to three days
for them to get into the feeling of it," Michael says of his two younger children.
"They'll get out into the woods and just play all day, build forts and
whatever. That's the way I grew up, and I want them to feel that. My
grandmother and my grandfather gave me that gift, and it's a gift that stuck with me.
"I wanted them to feel the feeling of being out in the country, or on a farm
or up in the mountains. That's why we really moved here, and I wasn't about to let
that stop at the front door. I want it to be inside as well, because when I grew up
in those old farmhouses, the atmosphere inside was just as wonderful as it was
Furniture made by a WestFest artisan was chosen for its Ozark
influence. "the chairs are exactly like the ones my granddad from Kentucky used
to make," says Michael.
Everything in this cabin retreat has meaning to Michael, whether
it was a gift from a friend or evokes special memories of his family.
Michael's main goal for the cabin, a place to write, has obvious influences on the
cabin's interior. His desk, without computer, phone or fax, is exactly like the desk
used by Mark Twain. An elk print to the left of the cabin's front door is the print
that hung above Train's desk. "He was one of the first guys to write about the
West and Americana," Michael explains.
The cabin is small, built just for Michael "to hang out." Even the desk
was chosen, in part, for its small size. Of course, the best-laid plans are always
open for revision. "When this place got build, "he says jokingly,
"the entire family decided that they had to be here every weekend. My doghouse
became the family vacation home overnight."
Michael thanks his father for bringing him camping at the Red River area when he was a
boy. He is knowledgeable about the Native Americans who lived in New Mexico before
European settlement. The Comanche Indians came to hunt the area in the spring and
summer; Pueblo Indians lived just to the south; Utes were in the area from time to time,
|Michael also easily explains
the story of Spanish land grants to the north - land given by the Spanish king before New
Mexico became part of the United States. "the grants are about 400 years old in
their tradition," he says. During the 1850s, the government "grabbed"
land from descendants of the people originally given the grants. After 200 years,
they no longer had their original titles. Some, however, did pass down the titles,
and the land still remains in the hands of the great-great-grandchildren of the original
A corner of the cabin's main sitting area reveals a
identical to that Mark Twain used during
his time at a newspaper in Virginia City.
Here, Celtic, cowboy, woodsman, and
naturalist influences are easily seen.
Red River, itself, existed as a goldmining town from 1890 into the 1930s.
According to Ken Densow, owner of The Red River Inn, there was never a huge strike
like those that made other gold towns more famous, "but they seemed to make a
living." Today, Red River welcomes year-round visitors. Winter tourists
come for the Red River Ski Area and the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area.
Spring, summer, and fall bring natives from southwestern states seeking respite from the
heat. Despite a large tourist population, the town's permanent residents number
of The Red River Inn, Ken and Alyce Densow, proudly host Michael Martin Murphey in their
Mine Shaft Theater for winter concerts. The 150 seats that fill the theater offer an
intimate listening experience. Even diminutive Red River seems clamorous from
the perspective of the Murphey cabin, however. It's not a hard thing to understand.
The cabin's carefully planned interior offers solace for a writer and a haven away
from the world for a family.. There is an unreal quality about the quiet within its
walls, the sharply-defined mountains, trees and sky outside its doors. The quality,
it seems, is simply peace.