It was 26 below the first time I saw the pine-paneled cabin with the pump on the porch and outhouse out back. New Year’s Eve, 1967. I’d come to Minnesota to meet his parents — we were getting married three weeks later in Atlanta — and we headed for the cabin as soon as I arrived.
I’d never seen anything like it: five-foot snowdrifts, plowed ice roads connecting a sprawling village of fish houses on the lake. To the amazement of my soon-to-be mother-in-law, I ran outside in my bathrobe and slippers the first morning just to see what 26 below felt like.
That cabin is now our cabin and our children’s cabin, two renovations and two generations later. My husband’s parents added the kitchen and bathroom in 1974, just before his father died. Our family of five — six with Grandma and her dog Dixie — spent many weeks and weekends there fishing year-round, swimming in the summer, skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, always with card games far into the night.
The family grew. Our three children married and had children. Now there are 14 of us. The year after Grandma died, we expanded yet again, adding two bedrooms, a loft, two-story windows that expand the view of the now-diminished fish house village. The snowdrifts this winter are more dramatic than ever, we nearly hit 26 below again, and our grandchildren hollowed out snow caves and tunnels illuminated by candles just as their parents once did.
It’s quiet. It’s beautiful. It’s still, unless the wind is up, and then it’s thrilling. The white-breasted nuthatch and the black-capped chickadee know our bird feeders. The hairy, downy and pileated woodpeckers like our choice of suet — as does the pesky red squirrel. The cabin is still a place for games, fishing and skiing. It is also a place for putting another log on the fire and reading.
Nine years ago I began inviting writers and artists to the cabin for a week of uninterrupted work during January. Four of us at a time, in our separate bedrooms with designated workspace, write and draw and read and think. We pull down the cone of silence during the day, and each works alone on whatever calls. One of us cooks for the group at night, and we talk about our day, share a bit of what we’ve done. We call it an Art Colony. In the summer my husband and I do a weeklong camp with our grandchildren and even my brother’s grandchildren from Georgia.
My husband’s parents left a legacy when they bought that three-room cabin in 1963, a gift to their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and the more than 30 writers and artists who have spent a peaceful week there. I don’t think they knew the phrase “pay it forward,” but that is what they did 50 years ago — and it is still giving.
Kathleen Coskran, MINNEAPOLIS