It’s like something out of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale or creepy horror movie. A forest ranger goes about his usual work on an ordinary day and stumbles upon a cabin hidden deep in the woods. What he finds next is so baffling one could write a mystery novel out of it.
Mark Andre, a forest ranger, currently serving as director for Environmental Services in Arcata, California, was marking old trees to be harvested when he looked through the trees and saw something that was out of place. Upon closer inspection, he found out that someone had built a makeshift cabin measuring 8 by 12 feet and 15 feet tall. Andre said, “It’s in the perfect out-of-the-way spot where it wouldn’t be detected.”
The location surrounding the cabin was pristine; nothing at all looked disturbed. There were no usual signs of environmental abuse associated with campsites. There weren’t even any trails to indicate how the person who built that cabin got there and how he (or she!) transported the materials to build it. The structure was set up on concrete blocks. It included a small porch, windows, walls of plywood covered with brown tarps, black plastic sheeting, and lots of foliage that blocked the cabin from view, making it almost invisible. Andre himself didn’t see it until he was 12 feet right in front of it.
The next thing Andre did was to call help to enter the premises. He was only following protocol since it’s illegal to build or camp on public property. When his team arrived, they entered the makeshift cabin, not knowing what to expect. What they found was a minimal but functional living area with a kitchen and living room. There was a wood stove for cooking and warmth, thick coverings over the windows to allow little light to escape at night so the cabin wouldn’t be seen, canned foods, an old typewriter, and a few books including a copy of Frank Abagnale’s autobiography, “Catch Me If You Can,” which was ironic given the circumstance. They even found a to-do list with most items crossed out. One entry was dated as early as 2011, which led them to presume this was around the same time the cabin was built. The latest was dated 2014.
Mark and his team couldn’t figure out who the cabin belonged to or who built it, but before they left, they took photos and posted an eviction notice on the front door.
A month later, when Andre returned to the cabin to follow up on the eviction, it seemed the owner read the notice and started moving out a lot of stuff. Like before, no evidence was left behind of who they were, which way they came from, or where they were headed to.
The plot thickens when less than two weeks later, they found the entire cabin structure itself was gone, and only a few big pieces were left—the wood stove and some furnishings. And again, there was no evidence—no one saw anything or anyone pass through the area lugging heavy stuff. Another puzzling thing was that access routes to the cabin site didn’t show any wear or tear.
The next day, everything was gone. Michael McDowall, a natural resources technician for Arcata’s Environmental Services said, “That’s the cleanest camp cleanup I’ve ever seen. There wasn’t a nail, not even a gum wrapper left behind.” The only thing the resident left was a symbol made with charcoal. Upon research, they found it to be the international squatter symbol: “The circle represents the building, and the arrow represents the squatter. The squatter goes in (line in), stays for a while (line in the middle), and then leaves (arrow!).”
To this day, Mark and his team have had no luck solving the mystery of the person who built, lived in, and dismantled the makeshift cabin. All they have are theories, one of which is the cabin was built by an older, more experienced person who knows how to work with his hands, moves quickly and stealthily, and has minimal material needs.
Arcata, formerly called Union Town, administers thousands of acres of public land in Northwestern California. Who knows, the mystery cabin in the woods builder/occupier might have moved on to another secluded forest to re-build and live in his makeshift tiny home. That’s one of the beauties of some tiny homes–you can move and take your house with you.