Island getaway offers peace, quiet and camaraderie

  • Updated: July 16, 2011 - 9:42 PM

A cabin on an island offers solitude and camaraderie for retiring autoworker.


Dave Selbo, a longtime Ford Motor Co. worker, plans to retire this year to spend more time at his summer home on Farm Island near Aitkin.

Photo: Curt Brown, Star Tribune

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Three out of four summer weekends, Dave Selbo makes the 130-mile trek from his home in Prior Lake to his cabin up north. But unlike countless Minnesotans who plot similar pilgrimages, Selbo has to unload the groceries and stuff twice and pilot his pontoon boat to get to his beloved destination.

Selbo's cabin of 24 years is located in the middle of Farm Island Lake between Garrison and Aitkin, on the eastern shore of a wooded 25-acre, apostrophe-shaped island punctuated with wild asparagus and raspberries and a couple of foxes who came over in the wintertime. A mother bald eagle trains her young to fish off the dead tree on the point just north of Selbo's cabin.

"A little solitude is good for everyone once in a while," Selbo said. "But up here, you don't have to be lonely if you don't want to because there are all kinds of neighbors. If you need help, they're here to give it to you before you ask for it."

The island once hosted a sheep farm but has since been divvied up into a couple dozen lots. About 12 families have cabins on Farm Island, some with double lots. Although they have no legal association, they call themselves the Farm Island Club, and collectively they own the middle of the island, haul off the trash and share a marina a long-skipped stone's throw across the lake.

About 10 years ago, the islanders went in together on a backhoe, transported it across the winter ice and hired a guy to dig out septic systems. The outhouse era was over. The next winter, they brought the backhoe back to the mainland.

"And we sold it for more than we paid," Selbo said, with a chuckle.

The Selbos -- Dave; his wife of 44 years, Stephanie; two daughters and four grandkids -- are part of the isle's second wave. A few of the families are original and most are summertime-only occupants. A native of Jamestown, N.D., who grew up in south Minneapolis, Selbo worked for 30 years at the Ford Motor Co. plant in St. Paul and now mediates problems between Ford and suppliers for his own company.

He plans to retire by year's end to spend more time on the island. He's thinking of redoing the exposed well and enclosing the crawl space for winter living.

"I love the fall out here after everyone's closed up, the kids are back in school, the leaves are starting to turn and the walleye are getting active again," he said. "The lake isn't crowded after school starts until I close her up around Halloween."

Back in Prior Lake, Selbo wakes up about 5 a.m. every day. At the cabin, he "sleeps in" until 7 a.m. With a cabin facing east, he can watch the sun rise but not set. When the kids complain that they can't see the sunset like neighbors on the other side of the island, "I tell them to take a movie and play it backwards."


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