Cabin Country: Remembrance of hunters past

  • Article by: GREG MACK FROM ST. PAUL
  • Updated: November 21, 2013 - 3:42 PM
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Greg Mack can’t bring himself to modernize his modest little hunting shack. The place is still teeming with the spirits of its previous four owners, he says.

The “shabin” is our term of endearment for the compact little hunting shack situated on a peninsula of land between Lake Christina and Lake Anka in Douglas County, Minn. It was built in the 1930s by Carl and Lena Slathar when Lake Christina was a seven-hour journey on two-lane roads from their north Minneapolis home.

The original one-room cabin was strategically located on the flattest peninsula lot and set close to the shores of Lake Anka. This provided maximum relief from the howling northwest winds of Lake Christina. The bent oak trees surrounding the shabin confirm Carl’s wisdom in situating the dwelling just so. Carl and Lena, both products of the Great Depression, added a kitchen and eating nook in the 1940s by repurposing and attaching Carl’s deer hunting trailer to the south wall. From the exterior it looks like an original part of the cabin, but the arched kitchen ceiling reveals its mobile origins. The boathouse, complete with an upper sleeping loft for Carl and Lena’s foster kids, was added sometime over the following decade.

Somehow in the 1970s my father-in-law, Bill Ziemer, and his lifelong hunting buddy, Harry Feichtinger, stumbled upon the shabin. Eventually they purchased it from Carl and Lena. They added electricity (but left the gas lights as backup) and bumped out an area large enough for a couple of bunks and a dresser. Everything else was left intact.

As part of the sale to Bill and Harry, Carl reserved rights to use the boathouse and sleeping loft. He continued to hunt Lake Christina for a dozen or more years thereafter. Carl, many years their senior, outlived both Bill and Harry. After their passing I purchased the shabin from the surviving spouses.

Over the years I have enjoyed a number of hunts with family and friends. One of the most memorable was with Carl in 1988. He was getting up in his years, but Carl still spoke with pride about his little duck camp. He shared some of his knowledge about flight patterns over Lake Christina and shot a limit of ducks from his canoe.

A lot has changed at Lake Christina since the 1930s. The lake suffered some setbacks as rough fish moved in and increased the lake’s turbidity. Historical vegetation has faded. Hunting shacks have given way to year-round homes with garages and pole barns. While I’ve been tempted to modernize the old place, I’m somehow haunted by tradition. For now, I feel privileged to be the de facto curator of a past time. I take comfort in knowing the spirits of Carl, Lena, Bill and Harry are still with us in this humble little shabin.

SEND US YOUR ICE-FISHING HOUSES! Cabin Country wants to celebrate your favorite hideouts this winter, especially your ice-fishing houses, but also your cozy winter cabins. Please send your photos  and stories to cabins@startribune.com or submit online at www.startribune.com/hideouts.

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