Garrison Keillor once wrote about a deer shack and included some of the following activities: Open the door, sweep the floor, plug in the mini-frig, start the fire, and prime the pump. Then relax. Prepare some food, get out your book, and sit in a comfy spot. This simplicity describes almost exactly my in-laws lake retreat.

This 1920s hunters’ cabin was moved in the late ’70s to a small lake just outside of Hertel, Wis. My in-laws bought it in the late ’90s. The cabin is a gem sitting in a small parcel of trees, and made of tamarack railroad ties and rough-hewed lumber. The dwelling has lofts, a cast-iron stove, and wildlife art that makes it feel cozy all the time.

The lake (more like a large widening of a creek) is more for nature-watching then recreation. River otters, turtles, snakes, deer, black bears, mountain lions, and birds are all part of the scenery. A bald eagle’s nest sits at the south side of the lake on a small island and oversees all.

We take the kids to Shell Lake to spend the day at the public beach and walk Main Street looking for ice cream. For more down-to-Earth fun, we just head across the road from the cabin and visit our farmer neighbors, who have become our good friends. Our children get to see and experience what a real family farm is like with 31 dairy cows, numerous pigs, chickens, barn cats, and fields of corn. Just this summer our teenage daughter got to help clean out the pig barn with the farmer’s teenage daughter. Priceless.

Tom Ososki, St. Paul