In 1992, my spouse, Marcie, and I bought 5 acres of woods on a small lake near Park Rapids. We spent the first summers camping, clearing brush, battling bugs and having all kinds of fun with our two sons, dogs and friends. It didn’t take us long to want more — a cabin where we could hunt, cross-country ski, ice fish and have fun all year long.
Given the realities of our financial situation, it would have to be a small, affordable cabin that would be easy to maintain. I spent many a night drawing up cabin plans and figuring construction budgets, trying to find the right mix of size and cost. The basement for the 16- by 20-foot cabin was dug in August 1998. The excavator ended up being the only contractor we hired. The rest of the cabin was built the old-fashioned way with do-it-yourself labor from a host of talented and not-so-talented family and friends. Like any real cabin, it has a wood stove for heat and an outhouse. We don’t need to keep it heated or worry about pipes and sewer systems freezing in the winter. It should be finished sometime this century.
Coincidental with the start of construction was a trip to Ely, where our oldest son was attending Vermillion Community College. One of the activities offered for Parents Weekend was a tour of Sigrud F. Olson’s cabin on Burntside Lake. The simple one-room Finnish log structure was the inspiration for his second book “Listening Point” and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The visit to Listening Point rekindled my interest in Sigrud’s books and inspired me to try writing about our own cabin experiences. But how would I distinguish myself from the countless other Minnesotans writing about their cabins? I took a gamble and started my writing career with a creative nonfiction piece about our outhouse and how we use it to screen potential visitors.
I got lucky with my first story. “Outhouse Talk” was published in the Lake Country Journal Magazine of Brainerd. Since then, my writing horizons have expanded to include cooking, travel and even a little fiction. I’ve had over 40 articles published in a dozen magazines and literary journals. But cabin life continues to feature heavily in my writing.
As a writer, you can spend lots of time and money on writers retreats, conferences and Internet classes — all offering ideas on how to beat the curse of “writer’s block.” Whenever I have this problem, I just visit the cabin. Problem solved.
MIKE LEIN, NORWOOD YOUNG AMERICA
SEND US YOUR ICE-FISHING HOUSES! Cabin Country wants to celebrate your cold-weather hideouts this winter, everything from ice-fishing houses to cozy winter cabins. Send your story and photos to email@example.com or submit online at www.startribune.com/hideouts.