Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Surrounded By Love: A Reflection on the Family Cabin
by SaganagaJoe

Trip Type: Motor
Entry Date: 07/05/2011
Entry Point: Other
Exit Point: Other  
Number of Days: 5
Group Size: 11
Trip Introduction:
As we all prepare to go back to our lake homes and cabins this summer, I thought some of you might like to read my reflections on my own family cabin. My grandpa (the same one I take canoe trips with) and his five brothers bought land on North Sand Lake in Burnett County, Wisconsin in 1963 and built a cabin five years later. They bought more land and built their current cabin across the street in 1979, and four families continue to remain there today. Starting in 2011, I began to take trips back to the cabin each year. I wrote this reflective essay combining memories and experiences from those years. This is a trip report of sorts, but it is written in a way to look at the little things in a whole new dimension. Time at Grandpa and Grandma's cabin is about the only thing that even comes close to my experiences in the Boundary Waters.
A soft grey light streams through the slightly open window. I roll over in bed and look at the ceiling of the bunkhouse. Shaking the sleep from my eyes, I glance at the clock. It reads quarter to five. The night is old.

“Too early,” I think to myself.

I roll over and stare at the wall, closing my eyes. Then, I remember that the sun will be rising soon. Quietly, I get out of bed and pull on some clothes. Slipping a baseball cap on my head, I silently leave my room as to not disturb the others still in slumberland. The screen door squeaks on its hinges as it scrapes across the doormat. I head for the garage. In the old fridge, I find a container of baby nightcrawlers.

The dew drenches my feet as I head across the lawn. The air is fresh and pure and smells of wet grass, dew, and pine. My bare feet tread on the carpet of sandy brown pine needles as I head around the corner to the front of the cabin. I grab a fishing pole from the corner of the deck, stroll back down the weathered cedar steps, and head for the bench on the end of the dock. I walk past the hammock, down the railroad tie steps, and pass by the pontoon and speedboat. Hooking a baby nightcrawler securely on my line, I cast it out into the water and sit down on the bench.

North Sand Lake is as calm as a sheet of glass, and the morning air is still and cool. A few puffy clouds glide across the eastern horizon, where an ominous glow of orange is beginning to form. I set my pole down and pick up my camera in anticipation.

The orange haze gradually gets brighter, and then a ray of light breaks out from behind the eastern horizon. A loon calls from out on the lake, its warbling giggle greeting the morning with joy and laughter. A second ray comes out and then a third. Finally, a globe of solid orange quietly emerges from behind the opposite shoreline. The light it casts out sets the clouds on fire and contrasts with the deeper blue of the sky. The words of the Psalmist cross my mind, “From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord shall be praised.”

I turn around and look back towards the cabin. It shines in the radiance of the morning glory with each window catching the rays of the sun and selflessly reflecting it back towards me. The stately pine, spruce, maple, and ash glow with a deep green, the color of life. The sandy brown siding has never looked so good. I see the inner tubes and noodles leaning against the left side of the cabin. Their rest will soon be over.

Shifting on the bench, I snap a few pictures and then pick up my pole again. After about an hour, I quietly mosey off the dock and head back to the bunkhouse with about ten beautiful pictures on my stringer and no fish. But, the morning had just begun.

After another hour of sleep, I dress again, spend a few moments with my Bible, and head across the lawn towards the cabin. Pulling the back door open, I walk into the cabin, leave my shoes on the mat, and greet Grandma and Becky as they bustle around the kitchen preparing breakfast. The smell of coffee and caramel rolls fills the air. I head out the front door and sit on the deck with Grandpa. We admire the panoramic view before us as we talk together in sweet mutual fellowship. Out on the lake, a jet ski tears across the surface of the water which the morning breeze is now stirring and moving.

I am so happy to be alive. I feel the joy of the jet skier as he spins around and shouts with exhilaration. The birds sing from the nearby trees, each one blending its own song into a beautiful symphony of perfect harmony. The hum of a trolling motor reaches my ears, and I imagine a contented fisherman calmly smoking his pipe and eagerly watching his pole for any action.

It is breakfast time. I sit down at the huge well-worn table, lovingly used by four generations of Halls and still going strong. As Grandpa prays the blessing, I look up at the painting on the wall and observe the old Swedish man bending over his humble meal of gruel. His hands are folded in prayer. I bow my own head. As I heartily dig into the sweet caramel rolls, crisp fruit, and warm scrambled eggs, I think again about how much I have to be thankful for.

After bringing my plate and cup to the sink, I head over to the bunkhouse and pull on my swimsuit. Back on the cabin deck, I apply a generous amount of sunscreen, so I will not have any regrets when I am Grandpa’s age. After climbing into the paddleboat, I head out into the lake. Drifting out many yards from shore, I dangle my feet in the water and lean back to allow the sun’s rays to kiss my face. This is serendipity at its best.

Then, I hear the sound of the ski boat and watch as it speeds off across the lake with one of my cousins tightly gripping the handle of the rope. I slowly paddle back to the dock, tie up the paddleboat, and jump off the end of the dock into the refreshingly cool water. I pull the water skis off of the dock and slip them onto my feet. The boat comes sailing back in. Ryan lets go of the rope and comes gliding smoothly across the water. With arms held high in the air, he sinks slowly down into the water. I catch the handle of the ski rope, and lift the tips of my skis out of the water.

“Hit it!”

The engine roars. I bend my knees and lean back and effortlessly pop up out of the water. I shake the water out of my eyes. With my arms locked firmly into position and my knees bent, I sail across the lake. As I fly along behind the boat, I think about previous times at the cabin, about the many times I had tried to ski and failed, about my persistence and perseverance, and about the day I had finally gotten up. I smile as I think about the confidence I now have as a result of learning to ski.

Mike is driving the boat to a calmer section of the lake. As we round the point, I see the flats, the clear mass unbroken by waves, smooth as butter and calling my name. Leaning out, I effortlessly slip into the calm outside the wake of the humming motor. I enjoy the feel of the glassy sheet of water before re-entering the wake with a burst of spray. We loop in a big circle and head back for the cabin. I head out of the wake a second time and let go of the rope. Gradually, I sink down into the water for a perfect landing. After pulling my skis off, I hand them to Rachel and climb into the boat to watch the joy of others.

When all are done skiing and the boat is secured in the shore station, we all pull off our life jackets and jump off the dock into the lake. The spring fed water is crystal clear and refreshing. I float on my back, feeling the cool embrace of the lake. We all laugh as we splash each other, and the cannonballs get bigger and bigger.

After we finish our hearty lunch, we head to the backyard to play a round of badminton. The air is warming fast. After a hard-fought round, we all put on our life jackets and climb onto the pontoon. The old motor sputters and fumes, and the distinctive odor of gasoline fills the air. We glide slowly out to the middle of the lake talking, laughing, and teasing each other. Once we have reached just the right spot, Grandpa shuts off the motor. The time has come for a deep lake swim.

One of my cousins and I grab my little brother by his feet and hands and throw him into the water. I dive off of the front of the pontoon, my hands pointed in front of me, and feel the cool water envelop my face and body. One by one, we all continuously circle around the pontoon by climbing up the ladder, running across the pontoon, and jumping into the lake with a tremendous splash. This is the definition of refreshing.

When we return to the cabin, I sit in a lawn chair by the fire pit peeling a stick of white pine. The blade of my knife penetrates the bark and sends it rolling off of the stick in little curly shavings. The sharp, wonderful smell of pine sap covers my hands. I think of the walking sticks that line the wall of my bedroom back home. Each one is a precious memory of time spent at the cabin.

Everyone is relaxing. Grandpa is lounging in the hammock slowly swinging back and forth. Becky is sitting on the beach, reading her book, and enjoying every minute of her vacation. Amy, as always, is splashing in the water off the dock. My brother, Jesse, is building a sand castle on the beach. Rachel is drying off on the deck, and Ryan is sitting near me. We talk and crack jokes as I work on my stick. Grandma is inside, sitting in her place on the couch, mending some article of clothing she has brought up. Mike is hidden away in his room in the bunkhouse taking his afternoon nap. All are content. Life is good.

Later that evening, we all gather around the table again. Becky has prepared a delicious meal for us. As we eat our dinner, starving from all of the day’s activities, we revel and rejoice in fellowship with each other as we talk and laugh. The Lord has truly blessed our family with unity, peace, and love. For that, I am grateful.

We head back out onto the pontoon armed with our tackle boxes and fishing poles after dinner. The motor roars, and we charge out into the calm evening looking to have a good night of fishing. Motoring down to a tried and true fishing hole, we begin to cast and reel in our lines. Our hooks are set with plump, juicy worms. We catch many sunfish worth keeping and throw the little ones back in for another day. My little brother pulls in a bass about fourteen inches long. I see the joy on his face as he holds up his trophy. The way he is smiling, you’d think he had just pulled in a forty-four inch northern pike.

As we idly watch our bobbers, the sun begins to gradually descend below the western horizon. Its dying light illuminates the clouds. Their light effervescently reflects on the calm water of the lake. The air is still in calm, and I hear the night noises beginning to emerge from the forest.

Upon returning to our cabin, Grandpa filets the fish and brings them inside to the freezer. Rachel heads into the cabin and returns with two guitars. I drop my load of kindling and firewood and build a fire in the firepit, tenderly setting each piece in just the right place. Amy and Ryan set up the chairs, and Mike lights up the firewood teepee of birch and pine that I have just built. It incinerates instantly, and its bright orange light quickly outshines the fading light of the setting sun. The crackle of the burning logs pierces the evening, and a column of wood smoke ascends toward the sky, filling the air with its acid smell. Night has descended.

Tuning up our guitars, we begin to sing the same old songs that have been sung around this same firepit for over thirty years. We laugh at the same old jokes and tell the same old stories. In this, we are one with the decades. We are sharing in the joy that has permeated the atmosphere of this campfire for many years past. Lord willing, that same joy and mutual fellowship will surround these ash-blackened stones for decades to come.

Someone brings out a bag of marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers. After my second s’more, I pick up a guitar. The high, sweet sound of my harmonica blends with the chirping of the crickets and the humming of the mosquitoes. I begin to sing a song I had written several years before. It was the fruit of a late night of anticipation and written in expectancy of a day like I had just experienced.

There’s a beautiful spot in the state of Wisconsin

Just a hundred miles north of Eau Claire.

Drive through Burnett County and make your turn at Webster

And pretty soon you will be there.

Nestled there on Sand Lake is a beautiful cabin

That’s owned by the brothers called Hall.

There we have fun and spend time as a family

This place is well loved by us all.

It’s the little brown cabin on the clear blue lake

Where the deep green trees stretch so tall.

I’m headed on my way to the little brown cabin

That’s owned by the brothers called Hall.

We ski in the morning and we fish in the evening

And we swim in the lake in the afternoon.

We sit on the deck in the cool of the daytime

And listen to the call of the loon.

We sit around the campfire and talk and laugh together

Someone plays guitar and we all sing.

And then it’s not long before everyone is sleeping

As the night noises through the forest ring.

Oh, life is so good in the woods of Wisconsin

At the little brown cabin on the lake.

Surrounded by God’s love and the love of our family

A better experience you couldn’t make.

It’s the little brown cabin on the clear blue lake

Where the deep green trees stretch so tall

I’m headed on my way to the little brown cabin

That’s owned by the brothers called Hall.

While the others head inside to hit the hay, I remain by the fire alone. Laying down my guitar, I lean forward in my chair. The fire has burned down to coals. I can feel the heat radiating from the glowing embers and smell the pine sap burning in the few logs that remain in the firepit. The sounds of the North Woods close in around me, and the night has now descended upon this place.

I think again of the words that I wrote:

Surrounded by God’s love and the love of our family A better experience you couldn’t make.

Indeed, on this side of eternity, it would be hard to top this day that I had enjoyed. I sit back in my chair and begin to think.

I am surrounded, totally surrounded, by love. I feel the love of God pressing near to my heart. This place has been dedicated to Him, and He has blessed it, Whenever I am there, I feel close to Him. I bow my head for a moment and pray that my home someday will have this same effect on whoever comes into it.

I am also surrounded by the love of my family. I can feel the love of Grandma and Becky, sacrificially giving of their time and energy to feed me delicious meals and clean up after all of us. I can feel the love of each of my cousins whom I have grown closer to as a result of our time here together. I can feel the love of my brother and am grateful that I brought him with me to share this experience.

I feel the love of my great-uncle Dave. I look around me and see the fruits of the vision that he had. I think about his love for this place, his love for his family, and about the role of leadership he had played. I feel a special closeness to him and eagerly anticipate the day I will meet him in heaven. I think of the hard work of my grandpa and all of his brothers. Their nickels, dimes, quarters, and long hours of labor provided the funds necessary to buy this land my feet are resting on and to build the cabin I come to each summer. I am filled with gratitude to them and to their wives for their dedication, sacrifice, and generous gift to me.

Most of all, I feel the love of my grandpa whose book you are currently holding in your hands. I think about how he keeps the vision going by imparting it to the next generation. I think about how blessed I am to call Grandpa one of my closest friends. I think about everything that he has taught me. I think about how he surrendered his life to Jesus that night lying on his back lawn and the impact he has made on the world since that day. I think about how we share many of the same interests and passions, so many of which lie up at this special place in Wisconsin. As the wood smoke curls upward into the night sky, I think about how much he loves this place. I think about what it will be like to come up to this place when he is gone. I know it will be different. I wonder if the second and third generation will take the torch and pass on the vision by preserving the same spirit of joy, fellowship, grace, unity, and love that fills this special spot. But, that belongs to the future. I am alive today.

As I sit in front of the fire, now nearing the end of its life, I breathe a prayer of gratitude to God for the wonderful gift He gave me in the cabin. I give thanks for this season in my life when I can come to this place, take my foot off of the accelerator, and relax. I pray that I will be able to re-enter the life I left behind rejuvenated and refreshed from the day I had just experienced and the several days to come.

After putting out the fire, I walk out to the end of the dock. The bugs have all gone away, and not a sound breaks the silence. The lake is still and quiet. I take one final breath of the night air and walk back to the bunkhouse. I roll up in my blanket on the bed and fall asleep instantly, surrounded and filled to overflowing by love: the love of God, the love of my family, the love of my grandpa, and the love of the cabin.