The annual spring cabin opening ritual isn’t for the faint of heart.
When Tricia Drury was a kid, she remembers arriving at her family cabin on Lake Ida in Alexandria, Minn., to find a dead muskrat floating in the toilet.
“The toilet circle of trust was totally shattered for life that day,” said the Lino Lakes woman.
Despite potential disasters that await after a long winter, opening the cabin is a ritual deeply ingrained in the Minnesota psyche. Every Memorial Day weekend, 124,000 cabin owners abandon towns and cities to head to their cabins, where they’ll erase the dust of neglect and any evidence that our punishing winter may have left on their beloved getaways. Surfaces need to be dusted, water turned on, docks installed, decks repaired.
Still, for Drury and so many others, it’s the weekend they’ve been waiting for. “There’s nowhere on Earth I would rather spend my time,” she said. “The busyness of life just falls away and it becomes about being together, talking out on the porch late at night or floating on the pontoon on a gorgeous, glassy lake.”
In years past, Drury’s family gathered at the lake for the annual “dock-in weekend.” This year, however, they’re hiring the work out.
“Having someone else install and remove the docks and lifts saves all of us time to enjoy the cabin rather than work,” she said.
Jobbing out the tasks that come with opening a cabin is becoming more common, said Tina Foster, office manager for Brainerd-based Northland Cabin Care. The newest generation of cabin owners wants to arrive with yards raked, beds made, decks power-washed and refrigerators stocked.
“There’s a fair amount of angst, because people still enjoy doing those things themselves,” Foster said, “but it comes down to time.”
For the holdouts, though, the chores are part of the ageless appeal of going to the cabin.
As a child, Christine LaNasa learned the priorities when it came to opening the family cabin on Grass Lake in Wisconsin. Before swimming, skiing and catching frogs, everyone pitched in by raking leaves, installing the docks and the raft, and putting the canoe and fishing boats back in the often still frigid water.
“What I really loved about the cottage opening is that we were all involved and together as a family,” said LaNasa, of Apple Valley. “There were no chores we didn’t like.”
Now, a new generation of the LaNasa family is learning the delights and demands of cabin chores.
“We’re a better family because of the cottage,” LaNasa said. “It’s our legacy. It’s a reminder of all the memories of my grandparents and my parents.”
For Steve Peterson of Minneapolis, the cabin routine dates to 1968, when he bought a wooded lot on Lake O’Brien in Crow Wing County.
“I built the cabin in a series of weekends the next summer, and have been tinkering with it ever since,” he said.
Many seasonal cabins require just that: endless tinkering.
Each spring greets Peterson with a fallen tree or two that succumbed to age and high winds. He sets up the 16-foot dock, slides the canoe into the water, carries out a large wooden bench to a shaded area near the cabin and reattaches the screen door.
This year, Peterson also had to replace a 6-foot stretch of roofing, something that seems to happen every couple of years or so.
To Peterson, there’s nothing not to like about opening the cabin.
“Each day starts on an emotional high,” Peterson said. “In the sun or the shade, in the cabin or on the deck, swinging on the 20-foot rope swing or in the hammock, firing up the Franklin stove or the fire pit, standing still in the woods or walking through it, there is no place I would rather be.”
Hudson, Wis., resident Lisa Zwiefelhofer isn’t so sure. She describes the cabin-opening process as “dicey.”
“Every year it seems like something goes wrong,” she said. “The uncertainty if the water is going to work; everything is muddy and dirty; you might find a mouse in the toilet.”
Nevertheless, Zwiefelhofer and her family faithfully continue on with a tradition that spans three generations. Because once you get past the hard work, a season of rewards awaits.
“The best thing is just getting there and having the whole summer to look forward to,” she said. “You leave all your worries behind.”
At least until the annual cabin closing weekend arrives.
Zwiefelhofer said: “It’s a lot more fun opening than closing.”