Shortly after we married, Sue and I bought a log cabin near Finland, Minn., behind the ridge rising from Lake Superior. Our dead-end road had one reclusive resident and, in our isolation, we felt like pioneers. For the first six months, we spent our weekends splitting firewood, paneling walls, putting up cabinets and making the cabin comfortable. The magic of this place struck me one cold, January night as I snowshoed to the cabin carrying our 10-week-old daughter. Snow crystals glittered in the moonlight, stars dangled low in the black sky, and birch trees popped in the still, subzero cold. Among the primal elements, this moment struck me as an auspicious beginning to family life — and it was.
The cabin introduced our daughters to nature. They picked “bumbies” (strawberries), caught “squeegie bugs” (fireflies), dealt with wood mice, skied on our trails, and watched the northern lights in wonder. We took them to the Lake Superior shore, hunted for agates, and listened to the waves. Warmed by the wood stove, we celebrated birthdays and Thanksgivings.
When we bought the cabin, I didn’t realize I was repeating my parents’ experience 40 years before. They were New Jerseyites and, six months after their wedding in 1941, they bought a summer place in Vermont. I spent the first three summers of my life in this old farmhouse before we moved to a farm in southern Minnesota. The North Shore’s rocky, birch and fir forests, hayfields and trout streams resemble Vermont’s Green Mountains. I’ve since wondered if I chose this place because of a subliminal memory of Vermont.
After 35 years, our original cabin is resettled elsewhere, and its comfortable successor sits on higher ground with a broader view. Sawmill Dome, our talisman, stands nearly 1,000 feet above Lake Superior. Sunsets redden the face of its northern cliff, fogs swirl about its wooded crown, and autumn sunlight shimmers through the colored leaves. Our daughters are grown, married, and settled in New York City and Louisiana. Perhaps, their memories of a childhood at the cabin will someday inspire them to replicate for their children their outdoor adventures and those of their parents and grandparents.
R. Newell Searle, Minnetonka