My best friend and I spent the summer of 1973 at her family’s old log cabin, Skratthuld (Swedish for “a laughing place in the woods”), north of Grand Marais on Lake Superior. As students at Minnesota State University, Mankato, we’d worked multiple jobs during the year to replace lost summer income. Somehow I convinced the college that we should get three credits for a self-designed course, “Flora and Fauna of the North Shore.”
So, we made kinnikinick tea and rose hip tea. We learned to identify edible plants such as wild spinach and plantain, and we found scrubby wild blueberries to be the sweetest food of all.
We made a deal with my friend’s family that instead of paying rent we would build a new two-seater outhouse and replace the cabin’s leaky roof. Some would call the latter work. But sitting on a roof overlooking Lake Superior, breathing in the pine- and cedar-scented air, while pounding in an occasional nail, is pretty light work indeed.
We drove an old busted-up Volkswagen camper that was prone to stay stuck in second gear after we jammed the gearshift while gunning it across backwoods potholes. We had no cellphones; no one had heard of them. No computers or global positioning systems either. And even though electricity had been available on the North Shore for decades, the cabin had none. We used kerosene lamps, candles and an old wood-burning stove. It did not occur to us to boil the water we drew daily from the lake — and no water has tasted so good since.
Over the next few years, we’d drive up from Mankato, often spontaneously, to the little cabin in the woods. The old VW camper had lost its heat by then, and once we had to tie a string to the accelerator to pull it back up after it kept getting stuck in the down position. In the winter, we’d park by Hwy. 61 and walk or snowshoe down under the stars to Skratthuld, spooked by ruffed grouse that flew up in our faces from under the snow.
The cabin still stands, as it has since the early 1900s. My friend died suddenly last year, and the cabin has long passed out of family hands. But I will always have the memory of simpler times.
Lindsay Hardin Freeman, Orono